Last summer, my wife became NPR’s correspondent in Baghdad. I couldn’t join her there, so we decided I’d move to Istanbul, with its cobblestoned streets, abundant fresh food, humming nightlife, and gleaming airport.
We weren’t the first journalists to discover its charms. At a rooftop party a few weeks after arriving, I encountered some of the other media people based here. A pile of sausage was tended by New York Times photographer Tyler Hicks, who gestured with tongs at Ivan Watson, the CNN correspondent. They both covered conflict, same as Dexter Filkins, author of an award-winning book on Iraq and Afghanistan, who lounged on a carpet and cushions. The lights sparkled on the Bosphorus and I watched as Imma Vitelli, an international writer for Italian Vanity Fair whose travels take her from Mogadishu to Milan, embraced Peter Kenyon, another Middle East correspondent for NPR. Tipping back a cold beer, I basked in the presence of so much achievement.
As the months passed, I began making friends among another swath of journalists—the freelancers who chased assignments, breaking-news event after breaking-news event. On one hand, it has been exhilarating to see the number of people who thrive doing this; making a living as a foreign correspondent is still the dream of many who enter the profession. But I also see that, along with the thrill and freedom of the freelance life, there comes a lack of job security and free time, and the absence of the kind of on-the-ground support needed for difficult and dangerous assignments.
Jacques Jaques was nicknamed “puppy” by some of the journalists here when she first arrived in the fall of 2009.
A native of New Jersey, Jaques, twenty-five, has curly brown hair and an excited voice that spills out in a rush. She studied photography at New York University and, in the summer after her sophomore year, snagged a position as an assistant photo editor for the New York Sun, before the paper stopped printing. “When everyone went out for drinks, I wasn’t yet twenty-one,” she recalls, laughing at the memory.
Around that time, Jaques also began working as an assistant for highly decorated photojournalist Lynsey Addario, who in 2009 won a MacArthur Fellowship and who that year also helped inspire Jaques to relocate after graduation to Istanbul. Jaques quickly found mentors among the more established members of the Istanbul press corps. Not long after she landed here, for example, Jaques says she set out on a reporting trip to Kabul—“something I wouldn’t have done without help,” she adds.
Although she didn’t sell any photos from that first trip, it began what Jaques calls her “Afghanistan year.” During the spring and summer of 2010, she traveled multiple times to the country, selling photos to, among others, The Christian Science Monitor and EurasiaNet.org, a website supported by the Open Society Institute. Her money started to run out in late 2010, making it difficult to travel for work, and she began reconsidering whether Istanbul could work as her base.
She was loath to leave for many reasons, including one very practical one: “Turkish Airlines is fantastic,” she says. “They fly to crappy places. There’s a direct flight to Bishkek!”
Business began picking up again this year, after protests began to rock Tunisia. She has memories from her weeks in Egypt during the revolution—one involves waiters at a Cairo café killing a giant snake—and she also spent several days with the corps of conflict reporters in Libya. The trips netted sales of photos to CNN, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Irish Times.
No one calls her “puppy” anymore.
Justin Vela, a twenty-four-year-old from California, says he also feels rooted in Istanbul. He sits at my dining room table in a cardigan, sipping tea, telling me about his circuitous route to Turkey. While studying at Evergreen, a college in Olympia, Washington, he cut out for South America, where he continued his studies and began freelancing for a mix of clients. He was soon filing photos and stories from Venezuela, Colombia, the former Soviet Union, and Finland.