One of the things about the Hajj - at least over the last ten years or so - is that you kinda expect tragedies to happen. This year, things seemed to move without a hitch - leaving us journos scrambling to find unique ways of covering it.
There was some solid work being done - most notably by AFP photog Mustafa Ozer, whose photos are being viewed around the world. Still, there are many stories that aren't being told. They include the huge environmental impact the Hajj creates, the army of migrant laborers that are needed to keep Mecca moving, and the ongoing erasure of Mecca's past at the hands of its present.
Part of the reasons those stories aren't being told - or at least, told to the extent they should be - is the nature of the Hajj itself. It's quick, arduous, and pilgrims are always moving from one place to another. Hard to meet your daily deadlines, let along work on long investigative pieces like that, in such a short period of time.
I suspect we'll start seeing more investigative work being done, now that cameras can be taken virtually anywhere. On a personal level, I was expecting some degree of censorship during this trip, but it didn't happen. There were some limits on where I could shoot photos, but they had to do more with religious sensitivities than anything else. At one point, after speaking with a government official about a specific photo I took, he said "Listen, we know you're a journalist. If you wanted to, you could go out on your own and take any photos you want." Don't think I'd have gotten the same response twenty years ago.
From a journalist's perspective, it's clear the Hajj is still a hugely important event in the Muslim world - perhaps THE single most important event of the year. That importance is reflected in the way media organizations devote resources to it. Aljazeera led the pack this year with a team of 21 staff on the ground, comprising reporters, producers, cameraman, technicians, etc. AP, Reuters, AFP, and CNN also sent their own, smaller crews.
As far as I can tell, there were less than five of us live tweeting/blogging it, and of them, only 1-2 were actually tweeting regularly.
With so much coverage, Hajj 2010 will go down as a major media spectacle - something that is unlikely to change in the future. Saudi Arabia itself had dozens of its own cameras on the ground, broadcasting the entire pilgrimage live and in HD, for 24-hours a day. That includes round-the-clock English language programming. To complement their coverage, they included round tables, talk shows, live interviews, and news inserts. It all had a very newsy feel to it, with a bit of the sacred tossed in for good measure.
A few of the non-Arab journalists I spoke to mentioned they were grateful to be able to cover the Hajj, but likely wouldn't do it again.
"I'd rather do it on my own" one said. "Work just gets in the way."
Speaking of work, this will likely be my last blog post. As of this week, I'll be back in Toronto, doing my regular TV thing on CBC News Toronto. Want to thank the CBC for letting me do this freelance for the Star. It's really cool of them to not let my press visa go to waste.
And kudos to the Star, too. Of the 300 journalists who covered this year's Hajj, from over a hundred different news agencies, the Star was the only Canadian news organization with the foresight to have someone there, on the ground. Good on them.