John Pomfret describes himself as the Dodo bird of the modern journalism world. He served as a foreign correspondent for the Associated Press covering conflict in different Asian countries and parts of the Middle East. Today, he says news organizations are cutting back on funds that send reporters like him abroad. Pomfret is also one of the few journalists who has worked for the same organization for decades. He’s worked for The AP for close to 10 years and The Washington Post for 17, which is pretty unusual, he says. Organizations have to resort to citizen videos or “parachute journalism,” where reporters hop in and out of countries when conflict escalates.
Pomfret would argue his experience in China was anything but a parachute in and out. Rather, it was a second home. His heart has always been in China, starting with his studies at Nanjing University to his coverage of Tienanmen Square.
It was the first time I experienced gunfire, and it’s something you never forget, he said.
He was assigned the “shit hole” duty for a majority of his young life, he said. Essentially, he was sent to countries in bad situations for long periods of time. He’s seen tragedy in places like Yugoslavia, Bosnia, Sri Lanka, Iraq, Rwanda and Afghanistan.
“You can write whatever you want, but source development is hard,” he said. With his in-depth knowledge of the Chinese history through his studies at Stanford University and his language skills, he was able to gather information.
Although he has experienced near-death situations, he says he remembers the funnier moments more.
After someone bombed his apartment in Sarajevo, he remembers his German colleague commenting that he was just in time for a pasta dinner.
“It’s a bizarre attraction that pushing yourself to the limit has,” he said.
Today, Pomfret serves as editor of the Washington Post’s weekend opinion section, Outlook. He says at this point in his life, he doesn’t wish to travel on assignment again, unless his work brings him to China.
“I didn’t really think about how risky it was when I was 30,” he said. Today with a wife and three children, Pomfret has settled in Washington D.C.