MR: Gary Knight, an amazingly good photographer but also a very good journalist, and I have worked together in a lot of places, and from different directions we could see the same problems. You can be a really good journalist, your news organization can be terrific, but you’re limited, restricted by the process. So we would dream of this idea — if we could just say it straight, just get into it at great length, we could equip readers with essential understanding. We could give a photographer two months and a mandate to do what he wanted, like we did with Antonin Kratochvil in this first issue. It was the same thing with Muzamil Jaleel, a wonderful Kashmiri we call our Borat-for-real. He wrote a 19,000-word piece! So we dreamed of something like this and talked about it. When I left AP, I realized we could do it. Meantime, Gary was running a photo workshop in Cambodia and met Simba Gill, who’s a biotechnologist with a great company that sells pharmaceuticals in emerging markets. He believed in the idea and came up with a chunk of money that allowed us to get going.
Here’s how it went down: Gary and Simba first talked about it in a swimming pool in Siem Reap. Gary called me and said, “Hey, there’s this cool guy ” And I said okay let’s meet on my boat in Paris. We had a forty-five-minute meeting and shook hands. We did this whole deal in a handshake. We hired Amber Maitland as our editorial assistant, the fourth person on the team. Then we went to Vietnam, near Danang, for an amazing organizational meeting. We ate crab, swam in the surf, raced motorcycles in a pounding monsoon, and also worked a lot. I was supposed to fly back to Saigon but the monsoon canceled the flight. So we all ended up in Cambodia, and we toasted the founding of Dispatches with champagne at the East Gate of Angkor Wat at dawn. It was great.
BC: Will you do investigative reporting, or is this just for essays?
MR: We’ll do investigative work. The word “essay” is not quite right. There are terms we’re starting to use now as everybody reinvents journalism, you know, “long-form,” “photo essay,” etc. I don’t like terms like that. To me, it’s a bucket of words. Each issue will have four buckets of words. And yes, there will be original reporting. In the case of the first issue, In America, there is a lot of reflection but also discovery. Issue two will be Beyond Iraq, and there will be some real reporting in that. Basically this is a wide-open journal put out by lunatics who run the asylum. We will have photos and words, but the form can be different, the approach can be different.
BC: In your promotional material and on the Web site, the notion of an outreach/educational component is prominent. Right now, you are just offering photography seminars, but I get the impression there is more to come in this area.
MR: That’s right. These photo seminars are what we are initially putting out because it’s an outgrowth of what Gary’s already got going. But our plan is to do outreach seminars for young professionals, or university students, who want to be foreign correspondents. We hope to set these up in different places around the world. The overall idea is that when a reporter reaches a certain point and has seen the world up close for a long period of time, the most important thing he or she can do is find a way to pass this knowledge along. It’s about carrying on the basic tenets of this profession; it’s not an age thing—there are some old guys who ought to be shot, and there are some very young people who get it, who are exceedingly good, who believe in what is good about the old way.
BC: What are your plans for the Web site?