November 2008

Folks, please check out Gregory Warner’s profile of Fidele Musafiri, a coltan and cassiterite (tin) miner in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. It’s tragic and powerful and pretty much exactly what we were aiming for when we cooked up the WORKING project. You can hear it at our WORKING Flash site – click on the Radio Stories tab (or the LISTEN button) and it’s the first one. Please also read the reporter’s notebook and look at Thomas Rippe’s superb photos. My hat is off to Gregory and Thomas – this was an extremely hard story to do, physically and emotionally.

The mine where Fidele works has been in the news lately, as fighting has broken out again between military factions and anti-government rebels. As if the people there haven’t suffered enough. Lydia Polgreen wrote a major spread for the New York Times on November 16. She was in the area just before our guys were there. Chilling.



What a thrill to go online today and see that 164 people had put their profiles up on the Worker Browser! Up from just 15 yesterday. We’ve barely mentioned it to anyone, but apparently folks are finding out. Fantastic to see the entries of working people in Spain, Malta, Lithuania, China, Canada, Italy, UK, Bahrain, Indonesia, Turkey, India, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Mozambique, Australia, Malaysia, Japan, Serbia, Hong Kong, as well as many states in the USA. Lots of people who work online, but also factory workers, cashiers, teachers, technicians, students, librarians, and engineers. Every time I checked during the day another person or two had joined the mix.

Here’s a picture from 11 pm on 11/16:


I notice that very few have filled out the text boxes elaborating on their answers, and even fewer have answered the questions at the end (dream job, what I like about my job, what I don’t like about my job, how I define “decent work”). I hope people will go back and fill those in — for me, the explanations are the most interesting part!

If you visit the browser and fill out the questionnaire, please let us know how it went. We know there are bugs and we’d love to get ’em fixed before the big rush comes.


I hope you got to hear the latest WORKING profile. It was produced by Kelly McEvers and features a pirate, Agus Laodi, in Indonesia. Agus boards cargo ships in the Strait of Malacca, holds their crews at knifepoint, and steals the money from their safes. Then he spends his “earnings” on women and booze instead of sending them home to his family. He is not, I’d venture to say, a terribly admirable fellow.

I think it’s a fascinating, revealing piece of journalism. It’s timely (pirates have been much in the news lately) and it has everything to do with the global economy (cargo ships move 90 percent of all traded goods, and piracy remains one of their biggest challenges). It is also an intimate look into the life of a person who has chosen a path and who doesn’t seem capable of changing course. Kelly observes (keenly) but she doesn’t judge. The feedback so far has been very good. But some listeners have written to say that it was wrong to feature a criminal, or to call him a “worker.”

This is the second WORKING profile of a person whose work is illegal (the other was a prostitute in Azerbaijan). One of the first pieces in the series features a fixer in Lebanon who turns out to be a bit of a shady character; a more recent profile features a trader in Dubai who sometimes smuggles American goods into Iran despite a US trade embargo. (Hmm, all four of these have been reported by Kelly – what is it about that woman?) An upcoming piece, produced by Gregory Warner, profiles a human smuggler on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

I have been in favor of including all sorts of workers in our series, law-abiding or not. Illegal work (from trafficking in drugs, arms, wildlife, and human beings to extortion, insider trading, and email fraud) is a significant part of the global economy. For some people it’s the only employment available; others see it as the only way to get ahead. I figure an honest group portrait of the working world has to include some folks operating on the dark side. I’m curious what others think. Are we glorifying scoundrels by giving them their eight minutes of fame?


P.S. We are saddened by the passing of Studs Terkel, but joyful in the knowledge that he touched so many people over his long life, and that his good work will live on. Studs was convinced that everyone has a story to tell – that simple, subversive idea has been a major inspiration for our work.