On my first day on the job at The Phnom Penh Post, our publisher, Michael Hayes, sent me to cover a press conference about the approaching 2003 election.
New to the country, I walked over to the Foreign Correspondents Club, where bartenders were pouring cold mugs of Tiger beer and the Mekong River slid past the balcony in silence.
Opposition politicians were denouncing the election preparations. “We speak with one voice to push for elections that will reflect the will of the Cambodian people and convince the donor countries to put pressure on the [Cambodian People’s Party] to hold fair elections,” shouted Sam Rainsy, standing next to officials from the royalist Funcinpec party.
Patiently, The Post’s political reporter Vong Sokheng guided me through a torrent of acronyms and palace intrigue. I transcribed furiously. Sweating through my first story back at the office, I felt the excitement that never ebbed during my time in Cambodia. A year later, as The Post’s new managing editor, I was as familiar with Cambodia’s politics as my own country’s (perhaps better), and Cambodia has never stopped teaching me.
Few places give journalists a better training ground. The Post was the chance to do everything a reporter hopes to do. I wrote about corruption, economics, politics, the environment, human rights and the struggles of a country recovering after one of history’s great tragedies. The best, and the most challenging, aspects of humanity were on display every day. It remains one of the most difficult, beautiful and fascinating countries I’ve had the privilege to cover. I hope I made a difference. I know The Post has.
The Post’s legacy lives on in the West as well. I often meet the newspaper’s alumni, and our counterparts from The Cambodia Daily, at publications around the world, from The Boston Globe to The Guardian, as well as at my current job writing for Quartz, the sister publication to The Atlantic.
As a young journalist, The Post gave me something I never expected: the chance to report overseas and, later, a shot at running a newsroom in my early 20s. I turned down the offer to become managing editor the first time it was offered to me. After boarding my flight home, and travelling halfway across the world, I realised what I was leaving behind. I called Hayes to reconsider. He graciously accepted. It was one the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Michael J. Coren was the managing editor of The Phnom Penh Post in 2004. He is currently a technology and business reporter for Quartz in San Francisco. Previous publications he has written for include CNN.com, Foreign Policy, and The Economist.