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article imageHow writing's an experiment - A profile of journalist Salim Jiwa Special

By KJ Mullins     Nov 24, 2009 in Business
The world of print journalism in Canada lost a master last January when Salim Jiwa took a buyout from Vancouver-based newspaper 'The Province.' Jiwa is now writing on his own media outlet and on Digital Journal.
Speaking to Salim Jiwa you quickly become aware of his vast knowledge on journalism. He has braved many death threats that true investigation reporting can bring, the tears of sorrow that retelling a tragic accident can invoke and the confidence of a man who could write anywhere in the world, with whatever is thrown at him..
Coming to Canada from Tanzania, Jiwa has known others who were jailed for educating the public by way of the pen. When he arrived in Canada in 1976 he didn't know if he would be able to live his passion but had to leave his home country for the sake of his family's safety. Once in Vancouver, he worked in a parking lot for six months until he was able to get a job with the The White Rock Sun. Working at the Sun, Jiwa covered it all, from city council meetings to city crime, laying out the paper to taking photos. He went on to the The Columbian Daily Newspaper in New Westminster before becoming the chief crime reporter for The Edmonton Sun. Then in 1983 he went to the Vancouver Sun for a two month gig. That gig would put him behind some of the biggest stories in Vancouver print journalism for the next 25 years. The Sun offered him a full-time job that Jiwa almost took until The Province offered him a 6-year salary level. The money was too good, he took the job at The Province and didn't look back.
Jiwa's last six months at The Province were spent working on the paper's web presence. Those six months made him realize that the world of print journalism was on its last legs.
"We live in a 'tell me now' society. The future of journalism is with an Internet delivery mechanism."
When the opportunity to take a buy-out came, Jiwa went for it. He had after all, an exciting career reaching, as he admits, the pinnacle of the trade.
It didn't take long to understand that he missed reporting.
"This is my life."
During his long career as an investigation reporter, Jiwa focused on crime and terrorism. That focus made him write two books on the worst terrorist bombing in Canadian history, the destruction of Air India Flight 182 with the loss of 329 lives. Death Of Air India Flight 182 was published six months after the tragedy by W.H. Allen in England, and in 2006, Margin of Terror was published by Key Porter of Toronto. Both books were a revelation in how authorities had botched the biggest terror plot to come from Canadian soil. The second book dealt partly with his own investigation and how it affected his life.
He worked everywhere, investigating the likes of Ayman Al-Zawaheri, second-in-command under Bin Ladin to a terrorist cell run from a prison in California by Sheikh Sudani. His reports told his readers the truths of terrorism and where the foundations of these groups lay.
"I found out how the United States used these people to fight Russia and then left them holding the bag after the Soviet empire crumbled." Terrorism cannot be justified, but it can be explained, he said.
He worked hard, telling readers stories of the ultimate betrayals, the sadness of crimes, the realities of life. At the end of the day he was tired.
His skill was not unrecognized. He is the character behind two CBC television movies: 2002's Jinnah on Crime: Pizza 911 and 2003's White Knight, Black Widow.
"I am all that is good in Jinnah, my friend, Don Hauka who wrote the book, shares all the bad traits," Jiwa joked about the role based on his life as a reporter.
As I discussed his life's work with Jiwa I had to know why he was now writing at a site known for citizen journalism. He admitted to a degree it is an experiment on the inner workings of the citizen journalism model.
"I am looking to see how citizen journalism develops. In the end I believe that the future of journalism will be the Web. In the future there will be well paid staff working for internet-based news organizations and that will be a test of the average citizen journalist - citizen journalism has to close the credibility gap or risk becoming obsolete as well."
As the future changes for journalism there will be more mainstream journalists who have the reliability that the public expects from reporters. Jiwa sees several flaws within the realm of citizen journalism that could number its days. One is the reality that very little true reporting is done when it comes to citizen journalists. For example, he says, citizen journalism takes a paragraph from BBC, CBC, AP, puts together the slices and creates a composite picture and call its a creative product. The truth is, that citizen journalism of this type still relies on the efforts of mainstream media.
"People are borrowing from other sources and calling it their own. Citizens who wish to be called journalists have to do more credible reporting."
One of the factors that Jiwa is upset with is with main stream journalism, the dreaded press release. He says a shortage of money at all print publications has meant that short-cuts are used and press release journalism has become the driving force of this less expensive form of reporting.
"We, as journalists have allowed journalism to become press release journalism."
Jiwa is a reporter, one who understands that journalism is sacred. He covers each story with professionalism. Each story means something to him. He uses his knowledge of the trade to bring forth a credibility that is not often there.
"I want people to believe my stories 100 per cent."
That desire tells the story of a journalist. It's the story of Salim Jiwa.
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