I'm an independent journalist and filmmaker who reports on war, crime and politics from places like Syria, Iraq, and the C.A.R. My latest piece is on born again members of MS-13 for the Guardian. AMA
Hey guys, I'm an independent journalist and documentary filmmaker focused on crime, conflict and politics. I've reported from Syria, Iraq, Trinidad, Liberia, the Central African Republic, Mexico, El Salvador, Sierra Leone, and a whole bunch of other places. I was one of the only reporters inside the besieged city of Kobane, interviewed Central African militia leaders, lived with Syrian rebels for a week, was on the ground during Ebola's peak in Liberia, and went to church with MS-13. I've worked for everyone from PBS Newshour to Vice News to the Wall Street Journal, and I recently returned from a reporting trip to El Salvador focused on MS-13, gangs and churches that was sponsored by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, with a piece just out on the Guardian: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vu8ZP1DaNyM&t=27s
My Website/reel: https://www.dannygoldjournalist.com/
Some of my work: The Fight Against Ebola: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=ANUI4uT3xJI
Crime and Corruption in Trinidad: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=292&v=tnpaaVB4XyA
7 Days with the Syrian Rebels: https://www.esquire.com/news-politics/news/a23556/seven-days-with-syrian-rebels/
Welcome to Kobane: https://news.vice.com/article/welcome-to-stalingrad-welcome-to-kobane-inside-the-syrian-town-under-siege-by-the-islamic-state
Murder and Extortion in Acapulco: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sxwuKUG47eo
EDIT: This was great, thanks so much for your questions. You can follow me at @dgisserious on twitter to keep up with my work. Logging off!
The new guy running it had different, shittier priorities and edged out the ones who did good, impactful work. I'd never work for them again, think the people running the place have absolutely no integrity, and wish them nothing but harm.
Lol this comes across a little bitter and sad.
not as sad as the ratings.
What worries you as an independent journalist? You've done some amazing stories, but is it an issue to not have a steady paycheck? I worry about journalism these days...
Thanks! There's absolutely no money in it and that's a huge concern. Being broke in your 20's when you're starting out is fine. In your mid 30's when you've got a decade in the industry, is much tougher. I worry about decent outlets even surviving, and there are very few left. The people in charge in this industry have done everything they can to ensure it fails and that it's nearly impossible to ensure a decent living doing it. There's also so much nonsense out there by bad faith con artists on both sides of the spectrum masquerading as journalists, buoyed by podcasts, and I see that growing exponentially as opposed to good journalism.
Have you thought of doing your own podcast? I feel like a lot of people would be interested in your thoughts while you were out in the field. More slice of life as a journalist in the field in dangerous areas. A lot of the questions in this AMA are more interested in what you have done and your thoughts.
I have! Do you think there would be a market for it? The last thing this world needs is another podcast.
What is the worst situation you ever found yourself in?
Kobane was extremely tough. The border crossing went horribly wrong, so I found myself inside the city alone, with no camera and few supplies. Luckily the YPG media there took good care of me, and there was an awesome Swedish journalist I teamed up with. Getting pinned down in the Central African Republic was terrifying. I had a propeller go out in a tiny UN plane in Guinea. Oh, also thinking I had ebola. That sucked.
Who was the Swedish journalist?
What made you so interested in covering the Middle East? (I grew up in Syria and love your work)
Thank you! The Arab spring was definitely a catalyst. I also really focused on the Kurdish struggle during the early years of my career, as learning about Halabja in college really made an impression on me. I did some traveling in North Africa in my early 20's that really struck me as well. And I think anyone who really started to look into journalism in the 2000's gravitated towards there because of the Iraq war. Once I started really reporting there, I couldn't stay away: the people, the stories, the culture, the history etc. I met a lot of really good people who I kept wanting to go back and see. And in a practical sense, there really was no where else that you could get a good amount of work as a freelancer once the Arab Spring kicked off.
What do you say to people who are pro-ebola?
I tell them they're supporting a government conspiracy by the global elites to enact population control or whatever
As a New Yorker, What are your thoughts about the Daily News firing 1/2 of its reporters? How concerned are you about you future of fair and balanced journalism as we see the rise of politically affiliated outlets and billionaires buying up storied outlets left and right?
Horrible. I learned how to report on the streets of NYC, often up against the Daily News. I'm extremely concerned about the future of journalism, I honestly don't think there is much of one. All I see is partisan hacks making bank of Patreon and gofundme, or joining awful right wing or RT affiliated platforms. Unfortunately, billionaires are the only solution unless something changes drastically. So while I would prefer it not to be the case, a hands off billionaire is all anyone can ask for right now.
Do you think Syrian conflict has a solution? If so, how would it look like and what actors would be involved if they had the good will?
I have no idea. I hold out some small amount of hope Assad will be removed and punished for his crimes against humanity, but that's looking like a pipe dream.
Would you recommend journalism school, or getting out there and freelancing?
I would recommend Law School unless you have a second income or an inheritance.
Did you run into anything memorable/surprising during the reporting of your recent El Salvador doc?
A lot, I'm actually writing something up on it right now. How young (and small) some of the gang members were really struck out. Some of the more violent ones barely looked 16 and couldn't have been more than 5'2. Also, hanging out with some of the converts who were like teddy bears, and then finding out their history of violence days later. Pretty strange.
Thoughts on the American presidency and current situation with Russia?
Seems pretty clear there's evidence that suggests there was collusion on some level, though I don't know how high up it goes. The current administration deserves to rot in jail for a number of reasons. Russia's government is a kleptocracy committing grievous attacks on civilians, intent on propping up an international fascist movement. etc.
What do you think needs to happen for America to be interested enough in foreign news to pay for it?
a realignment of our entire education system and culture? Celebs hosting?
What advice would you give to the people that want to start a career in journalism? I love your work btw!
Thank you! I get this question a lot and don't really know how to respond, as I don't want to discourage anyone but I find it harder and harder to recommend anyone go into journalism at the current moment. Many of my friends who would likely be seen as successful are trying to get out. I would focus on learning technical skills (video editing, cinematography,) and languages, and a have a solid plan b. That and marry rich.
Do you think there is another career path that would serve as an alternative for the ones that are truly passionate about journalism?
I guess that all depends on why you're passionate about it.
Americans are bad at paying attention to much of anything that goes on beyond their borders. What conflicts now deserve more attention? What kind of impact do you hope your reporting can have?
When Idlib kicks off, it's going to be a catastrophe with far reaching consequences. Cameroon, Nicaragua, C.A.R. are all places I'd love to be working right now. As far as impact, I have no idea. It's foolish to go into stories as a reporter thinking you're going to really catalyze big change. Maybe convincing a few more people of the humanity of some they would otherwise look away from is the best I can usually hope for.
how have you gone about setting up/finding fixers you feel comfortable with? and what would you say video packages bring to life for war reporting that print can't (apart from like...proof!)
When I started off freelancing I was on a really tight budget, so I mostly relied on friends of friends and students. Since then, I've developed a huge network of friends in the industry, and can always get a recommendation for where I'm going. I won't work with someone who doesn't come recommended from someone I know personally. It can take time, but it's worth it. I mostly work with local journalist these days, and many of them do far more impressive work than I could ever hope to. Video and print have their own strengths and weaknesses. I generally feel like print always gives a better understanding and better context, but video can capture the feel a lot more, if that makes sense. Video also lures in a different audience who may not want to invest a lot of time in reading something long.
Do you think this conversion by the gang members is purely for convenience or even an effort 'to go legit' so to speak while still conducting gang business? I ask because some of these so-called reformed members have been caught conducting business for the gang.
I think it varies. Some definitely feel legit. Do I think they should be forgiven for their crimes because of their conversions? That's another question entirely. Some are definitely doing it to avoid retribution, either from the law or from rival gangs. Some even their own gangs. I met a female convert who had lost a not small amount of crack and then converted, fearing she would be murdered by her own gang. Converts will tell you that, too, that some are only doing it to avoid their fate.
Thank you for the reply and for the journalism work that you're doing. El Salvador was never a perfect country but the gangs (along with the government) have ruined it past the point of no return. I'm glad that you gave some background in your piece about the origin of the gangs. BTW have you seen any of the investigative journalism work that El Faro has done on the gangs?
El Faro is an incredible paper. I think the Martinez brothers are some of the best journalists in the world, and I really admire Jose Luiz Sanz
Danny, have you ever considered investing in High Return, Low Risk shitcoins as a way to make money during dry patches as a freelancer?
I prefer low return high risk
What do you think to guardian (which i am a huge fan of btw) being Steve Bannon favourite newspaper?
Would writing about a political war crime be like a grand slam for you?
all war crimes are political. and yes!
Not really. I know some guys that stole a cache of golden AK’s. They did it because they wanted a golden AK. Not for government sanctioned genocide or because of Halliburton... they just thought it’d be cool. They didn’t join the military because of their political alignment, they needed a job. That’s how most of the enlisted ranks are.
is that considered a war crime?
What have you learned about the "War on Terror" while covering the Middle East? Do you think there's a likely end anytime in the near future?
That's a tough question to answer. I don't think wars like the war on terror, or the war on drugs, have any chance of really being won.
not for 2 years.
What happened to Vice? The work you, and others such as Aris Roussinos, Kaj Larson and Simon Ostrovsky were puttig out for them were fantastic. And now they seem to be relying on bs articles about weed and bowel movements. Would you ever work for them again?
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