That may come as a surprise to many of you who assume the greatest risk a journalist faces is infection from a paper cut. Well, there is that, but it’s not nearly as big a concern as it used to be when we used typewriters and actually handled paper.
Of bigger import are carpal tunnel syndrome from hours of typing, eyestrain from staring blankly at a blank computer screen trying to create something worthwhile to fill in the space (a considerable dilemma today, as you can plainly see), and overeating on the frequent field trips we take to get information (with which we fill up blank screens).
We endure the usual travel perils—skinned knuckles from changing flat tires, sunburn from interviewing folks on the beach (I mean in the field), fishhook punctures (oh wait, that’s another kind of trip), sleep deprivation, airsickness and the occasional bout of Montezuma’s revenge.
But new dangers have recently come to my attention. Last year 118 journalists worldwide were jailed, according to USA Today. That represents a 46 percent increase from 2000. Figures for 2002 could be even higher.
My first reaction to that astounding revelation was: Only 118?
Seems like I know at least that many who should have been incarcerated for one sort of misdeed or another. Perhaps authorities overlook public stupidity, over-indulgence in favorite vices or general orneriness. Obviously, some of us got lucky.
Just as obvious, at least 118 were not so fortunate. And it behooves all of us to be careful about where we go to get our stories. China, for example, tops the list of countries for the number of journalists jailed. The Chinese saw fit to put 35 of my fellow scribes in the slammer. Nepal nailed 17; Turkey detained 13; Burma busted12 and Eritrea restrained 11.
At one time I thought it would be interesting to visit China and do a series of articles on how they fail to live up to their WTO obligations, possibly even stir up an international incident. I’m rethinking that proposition. I’ve never been inside a Chinese prison but it’s not high on my list of things to see before I turn 54. Same with Nepal, Turkey and Burma jails. And I couldn’t find Eritrea with a gun to my head.
I might not want to visit the Mexican State of Chihuahua either, considering some of the issues we’ve covered concerning a water treaty.
The EU might take exception to some of the things we’ve written about their stupid complaints regarding our farm legislation and their apparent inability to recognize their own gravy train. So, I guess I’ll put my trip to Paris on hold. Spain, alas, will have to wait. Caramba! Scotland might be a possibility but I could get in trouble poaching salmon from some of their pristine lochs. The wish to fish is a powerful urge.
For the time being, it’s probably best to stay close. I don’t think I’ve angered anyone in Lubbock lately and I maintain a fairly good relationship with folks in Central and South Texas. The last time I visited Oklahoma they said to come back. New Mexico has always struck me as a friendly state and I welcome the opportunity to visit as often as I can. They also have some good trout water up north, and I’ll be happy to buy a fishing license.
I’ve learned to slow down through small Southwestern towns that apparently use speeding tickets as a prime source of revenue. I rarely pick fights in border town bars. And I’d never pull the “do not remove” tag off a hotel pillow. I’m learning to be safe on the road.
Fortunately, or perhaps regrettably, I’ve reached the age where safety and comfort provide bigger incentives than risk and adventure. Or maybe that’s just what I want the authorities to believe.