Missouri Honor Medalist Aye Aye Win describes longtime devotion to reporting

Tuesday, October 29, 2013 | 6:52 p.m. CDT; updated 5:38 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 30, 2013

COLUMBIA — Aye Aye Win woke up at midnight to the sound of a car stopping in front of her home's gate.

Win, a correspondent for the Associated Press, knew it was the police. The curfew in place in Myanmar in 2007 meant cars were not allowed on the streets late at night.


Missouri Honor Medalist Carol Guzy, a four-time Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist for The Washington Post, offers background information about five photos she has taken. (This story is available to readers with a Missourian digital membership.)

"I think they're coming for one of us," Win said to her husband.

She was right. Her husband had time to pack a toothbrush and toothpaste before they took him away.

All three times he was arrested, the police came at midnight.

"A knock on the door at midnight unnerves you," Win said during a presentation Tuesday. "It traumatizes you."

As reporters in Myanmar, the country formerly known as Burma, Win and her husband often report in dangerous circumstances.

Win knows how to run. She was chased by police with tear gas and batons while she covered a protest in 2007, the year her husband was arrested.

If she could do everything over again, though, she would still be a journalist, Win said.

"We know living this life there is always this threat," she said. "But the addiction (to journalism) is already with us."

Win was one of seven journalists awarded a Missouri Honor Medal on Tuesday for their career-long dedication to journalism.

This year's other medalists are FleishmanHillard, Hearst Television, Michael Golden, Carol Guzy, Greg Lee and Charles Lewis.

As part of honor medal events, Win presented a question-and-answer session Tuesday at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Her advice to student journalists?

"Stay safe and be truthful," Win said.

Reporting in Myanmar

Win's father, U Sein Win, was also a journalist.

"I think I fell in love with this job looking at my father's work," Win said.

Her father, who died two weeks ago, taught her everything about reporting, she said, including the importance of accuracy and objectivity and how to leave emotion out of her work.

"Since there is no journalism school, the only school I had was my father's school," Win said.

Win's father also taught her that being right is more important than being first.

She said her attention to accuracy over speed saved The Associated Press from major embarrassment on more than one occasion.

In 2005, she stopped the news service from running a false story about a military coup she knew could not be happening. Her understanding of "military mind" and Myanmar's history told her not to trust other sources reporting the coup, she said.

Win said living in Myanmar and knowing about the country's government and culture gives her an advantage over "parachute journalists," people who come briefly to Myanmar from other countries to do spot reporting.

"You really have to understand the complexities of the country and its ethnic people," she said. "You cannot just read Wikipedia and become a (Myanmar) expert."

Teaching young reporters

Win's question-and-answer lecture Tuesday was casual. Instead of standing at the podium, she sat in a chair in front of an almost-full auditorium packed with journalism students, professors and guests.

"I don't have any formal journalism training, so if you don't mind, can I sit down and talk with you?" Win said.

She said she was happy to see an auditorium full of journalism students living in a free society.

"You might have your problems, but I feel like yours might be less dangerous," she said.

Win said that since 2007, when her husband was arrested and she was chased by police, she has seen changes in the media and the government reaction to journalists in Myanmar.

"The past two years, I'm not worried about a knock on the door at midnight," Win said. "I think — I hope — these days are over, and I hope we will see a real opening up of the media."

Supervising editor is Margaux Henquinet.

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