Advocate-journalists: How suffering in India changed our worldviews

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Source: CVDaily Feed
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LOGAN—It was during a particular photo assignment in India that she felt drawn to something more personal and powerful than traditional journalism. After more than 35 years as a photojournalist for National Geographic and other national outlets, suddenly a young man staring at her through her Hasselblad viewfinder changed everything. For Lynn Johnson, her job became a “calling.”

Johnson was on assignment for the National Geographic to document a group of Christians in eastern India’s Odisha State who had been driven out of their village by Hindu extremists. In 2008, some 3,000 extremist Hindus attacked the village of 800 residents, driving the men into the surrounding forest and attacking women and children who had not escaped. The extremists sought a return to the ancient social caste system.

Upon her return from India, she called her friend, activist Jen Saffron, and told her that just photographing the world no longer seemed sufficient.

“She told me I had been called,” Johnson told an audience of 150 at Utah State University on Wednesday, standing below a 30-foot image of the young man, Anil, whose story changed her life.

Saffron and Johnson were on campus as guests of the USU Caine College of the Arts and the Morris Media & Society Lecture Series for a presentation about “advocacy journalism” called “Building Bridges: When Journalism and Activism Meet,” illustrated by Johnson’s photographs of “the Koraput Survivors”—the Christian community whose village had been razed by religious intolerance.

The Koraput Survivors Project is a humanitarian aid project,” Saffron said, “and our goal is to use our documentary images and our writings and talks like this to showcase the plight of a particular village in India . . . and to take a look at how we might use our roles as journalists to actually rebuild this village.”

While on assignment in India for the Geographic’s March 2012 cover story on “The Apostles,” Johnson was moved by the story of the homeless villagers, who have come to be called the Koraput survivors.

For Johnson, the turning point from traditional photojournalism to advocacy was when she was interviewing and photographing a young man named Anil, one of the survivors.

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