On Tuesday at class we were asked to think about what we consider is the greatest threat to journalism right now.
I come from a country where ours is considered a dangerous profession; almost all Colombian journalists I admire either live outside of the country, like Daniel Coronell who now works at Univision, or have to live with a strong security network.
Like many other Colombians who’ve had the privilege of studying outside the country, I’ve been struggling between going back after I finish my degree and sort of ‘give back’ or staying abroad, where circumstances are easier.
If I had to answer that questions regarding the journalism I grew up to and I’ve seen most of my life, I would say the greatest threat to journalism right now is power and dishonesty.
Three media companies owned by three of the richest men in the country control more than half of all media outlets. Besides newspapers and TV stations, these men own dozens of other businesses, like sugar and mining companies. They also have strong connections with political parties and government officials.
This kind of concentration of media ownership clearly affects journalism’s goal of being the ‘watchdog’ of democracy.
Besides this, journalism in Colombia (as in many other countries of Latin America) is threatened by violence, mainly drug-related and criminal violence. Political actors and parties are also responsible for this violence a lot of times, as they collaborate with crime organizations.
Journalists who investigate or talk about criminality and corruption in politics ultimately get tangled in this complex mix of actors. This is why dozens of journalists get threatened, harassed or even killed in my country.
When a great story involving politicians gets published, more than thinking about the journalistic value of it, I think about how brave the journalist was at publishing it.
One of my best friends, who is also studying journalism, jokingly told me he celebrated his first threat.
In North America and Europe, threats to journalism are far less ‘direct’ than those of the rest of the world. Freedom of expression is more or less guaranteed here.
However, I still think there’s one similarity and it is the uncertainty about what journalism is. Should we be worried, like it came up in last class, about changing people’s ideas or should we just stick to exposing the truth?
Does journalism need to have a moral intention?
I think it’s contradictory to claim that our goal is to show reality as truthfully as we can and not acknowledging that the quest for truth is a moral one.
If we know something is a lie our duty is to make our audience, by all means, understands it. I think the narrative of washing our hands because we’ve already put it out there is mediocre and hypocritical.
We should make our stories as good as possible in order for people to be convinced by them. It goes beyond fact-checking or accuracy.
I think we can solve this problem by taking a look at fiction and the power of storytelling. I’ve came to understand a little bit really complex issues by reading fictional stories. Words, scenes and narrative, in my opinion, can sometimes have a stronger effect than facts.
Using the same techniques and resources literature does to explore the human condition is a powerful tool for journalism.
An example of this is The Shadow of the Sun, by polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski, which compiles stories about the decolonization process in Africa.
Hearing about real people, their thoughts and their lives had made me understand much more about the effect Western powers had in African countries than statistics or historical essays.
Forcing the reader to empathize is the best journalist can do to make our work more credible and, ultimately, more truthful.