Barbara Demick on Why Women Make Better Reporters
Barbara Demick, award-winning reporter and Beijing bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times, has seen her share of conflict. She reported in Sarajevo during its siege of the early '90s, she penned Nothing To Envy, a fascinating book about North Korea behind the DMZ, and she was among the first to break the story on the organic food sources of this country's leaders. This Thursday, she shares her stories at a dinner hosted by 85 Broads. But first, she tells us a little about reporting as a woman and yelling at Beijing drivers.
What’s been the most dangerous situation you’ve found yourself in while reporting?
Sarajevo, no doubt. I lived in the city while it was under siege reporting for my book Logavina Street (published in the UK as Besieged). The Holiday Inn, where I stayed with other journalists, was hit almost every night with mortar shells while we were inside, though fortunately we stayed in rooms on the side that faced away from the firing positions. We were often shot at with anti-aircraft guns when we drove in and out of the city. This was 1994 and 1995, but I’m still a little shell-shocked. I can’t walk through the hutongs of Beijing during lunar New Year.
Would you recommend a career in war reporting?
Given the state of the journalism business, I don’t think I’d recommend it as a career at all. But if you are a reporter, foreign journalism is a dream job. War reporting is an adrenaline rush and can feel very meaningful if you’re uncovering news that you think makes a difference. Otherwise, I’d suggest being a business reporter.
How did you end up in Beijing?
I was sent here by the Los Angeles Times, via South Korea where I’d been for five years before. It seemed like a natural move.
What's your favorite aspect of living in Beijing?
The people. Beijingers are a little grumpy, like New Yorkers, but I enjoy that. I’ve found people I meet, whether socially or for work, surprisingly open and opinionated.
What about your least favorite?
Congestion, especially the traffic. Each year I’m here, I go out less and less often because it’s so difficult to get places.
Of all the places you’ve lived, where have you been the happiest?
Maybe Sarajevo. That sounds odd, but I felt my work was important and that was a rush that meant more to me than creature comforts.
Have you been anywhere you’d like to stay forever?
No. Never. I like to move around.
What’s the biggest opportunity you’ve missed out on?
Hard to say. When I first went overseas, I thought I’d cover Africa some day, but that probably won’t happen.
Who’s the most inspiring “broad” you’ve met?
That’s easy. My mother.
Are there areas of journalism that are hardest for women to get involved in?
In general, I think women have an advantage in journalism. Certainly as foreign correspondents. It is easier for women to get through checkpoints, to cover conflicts without being seen as combatants, to get inside people’s homes and secure their confidence.
Would you say Beijing is a female-friendly city?
Well yes, it’s pretty safe. And overall, China is far less sexist than other places I’ve been in Asia – especially Korea. I hated it in Seoul that so much of the business socializing took place in room salons.
When was the last time you shouted at a man?
A driver who was zipping through a red light to turn right on red and almost hit me and my son, crossing legally in the crosswalk.
What’s the most shocking or heartbreaking story about North Korea you’ve experienced?
There is a story in my book Nothing to Envy that the doctor told me. She had a friend, another woman doctor, whose husband and son died of starvation. When she expressed her condolences, the friend said it was good that they were gone because she didn’t have the extra people to feed. That story stuck with me more than any others.
Thursday, Nov 1
Dinner with Barbara Demick
RMB 250 (members), RMB 275 (non-members), +RMB 50 at the door. 6.30-9.30pm. Capital M (6702 2727)
For more details, including how to buy tickets, see www.85broadsbeijing.com
Photo: Courtesy of 85 Broads Beijing