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Tom Meagher


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When all eyes are on India

I’ve been trying to get to this post for about a week, but the news cycle has been a bear lately.

Here in Passaic County, we got hit by a major news story last week, and in the process of overseeing our coverage, I rediscovered a fantastic resource I wanted to share.

On Nov. 23, a gunman walked into a Syrian Orthodox Church in Clifton, N.J. looking for his estranged wife. Police say the man shot three people in their heads before he fled, killing his wife and another parishioner and critically injuring his wife’s cousin.

It was a sad story, and our coverage on that Sunday and in the subsequent days revealed a small, tight-knit community of Christians here that is made up predominantly of immigrants from the southern Indian state of Kerala. (Unfortunately, the relaunch of our Web site this week wiped out about six other stories we wrote)

Pretty quickly after the shootings, parishioners who were in the church gave our reporters the name of the man they thought was the shooter (and who was arraigned in court today). I found his phone number in California, and we called it. The woman who answered the phone didn’t speak English, only malayalam, the language used in Kerala. I wondered how I could find a translator on a Sunday evening.

Then I remembered that for the past four years I’ve been a member of the South Asian Journalists Association or SAJA. I was ashamed I didn’t think of it sooner. So I sent an e-mail to another member looking for help. Within 15 minutes, I got a phone call from someone willing to do some on-the-fly translation through a conference call.

When we called California again, perhaps unsurprisingly, no one answered. But I was pleased by the help that SAJA was willing to offer. Then one of its members posted about our story on the group’s South Asian issues blog, SAJAforum. The comments that the forum’s readers left in response to the story helped our staff members find new avenues of reporting in the following days. It was an indescribable boon.

I was truly impressed with the resources SAJA had assembled and the collegiality and professionalism of its members as they offered advice and help with our story. I was sold on renewing my membership.

Then, a couple days later, the terrorist attacks in Mumbai happened. Since then, SAJA has gone into overdrive. SAJAforum has offered loads of tips, including daily podcasts and phonecasts. With its coverage of this event, SAJAforum has proven itself an indispensable resource for anyone seriously covering South Asian news, both here and abroad. I can’t recommend it enough.