Chasing free press from Cambodia to Snohomish County

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After four years of journalism school, I wasn’t convinced daily news was for me. Tight deadlines made my stomach flip, and the thought of covering breaking news terrified me.

That all changed when I watched a country lose its free press.

After I graduated from the University of Washington’s journalism program, I got the once-in-a-lifetime chance to fulfill my dream of being an international reporter as a fellow at the Cambodia Daily, the largest English newspaper based in the Southeast Asian country’s capital, Phnom Penh.

For several thrilling months, I worked in a newsroom that prided itself on reporting “without fear or favor,” denouncing abuses of power by high-ranking officials and giving a voice to those who lost homes and livelihoods due to corruption. But after 24 years of fulfilling that role, the Cambodia Daily printed its last edition on September 4, 2017 in a widespread government crackdown on independent media and political opposition.

Without independent journalism, “the truth will be lost,” the paper’s senior editor Van Roeun, a Cambodian who joined The Daily in early 1997, told me.

“With the independent media gone, all you can know is the basics that you can get from government media,” he said. “People will see the surface of the water, but they will not be able to see the depth of the river.”

I came home from Cambodia determined to help maintain that independent media in the United States.

I cut my teeth in daily news at a small paper in Skagit County covering business and agriculture. That role showed me just how intertwined human well-being is with that of the environment—an interest that landed me at the Daily Herald covering science and environment.

It’s a role that allows me to marry my love of the outdoors with my career. Fortunately, it’s not hard to convince my editors to let me loose in the forest on an ATV or out on the trail with a pair of snowshoes for a story.

While on scene at the Downey Creek wildfire in September, I thought about what a privilege it is to document events that may otherwise fade into history. This is a pivotal moment for our environment as animals and humans alike experience the impacts of climate change, and it’s an honor to play a role in keeping Snohomish County residents informed about the world they steward.


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