What I Want To Cultivate As A Journalist

Over the last few days, I’ve had a few moments — the kind when I realize I’m young, and have a lot to learn about reporting.

  1. Pay attention to detail, consistently
    1. Collecting facts and filling in what you learn and from who into one document, rather than keeping notes here and there and in your own head.
    2. Why? Because
  2. Checking, double checking and triple checking my train of thought, how I’m piecing together a story, rather than being so sure about my own logic. This also means talking to my colleagues about what I’m thinking about and working on. 
  3. Staying focused to go deep into a story or an idea. 
  4. Finding a way to figure out specifics in a story that answer a question that help people understand what’s going on in the world.
  5. Assess my habits on how I learn and how I hear things.
  6. Read and listen to pieces critically, carefully and consistently.

This work is about building habits that help you keep your eyes, ears and mind peeled for a good work.

So, I want to do my work more confidently with greater attention to detail and specificity — and take the process a little more slowly.

 

Advertisements

Goodbyes and thank yous

This was originally written on Sunday, May 15, 2016.  I’m deciding to share it now because I’ll be leaving Boston two weeks from today. I’ve learned so much here in the past eight weeks, and I’m ready to tackle my last semester of college. 

What’s at the intersection of community and gratitude? Joy.

I’m home for 11 days before I head off to intern at WBUR in Boston.  The days have flown by, but I’m grateful for the time and space to enjoy my childhood home—from the smells of toast, coffee and eggs in the morning to the lush green of the front yard brightened by the flowers my parents have planted to watching a movie from the 80s with my family. This is familiarity.

It’s a respite from the world of college and an oasis in the middle of transitioning into full-blown adulthood.

Getting home this time around wasn’t easy, but not because of logistics. Leaving Columbia was hard. I cried because I know I’m only a few months away from a final goodbye to my college, my home, my friends and my community. For the last part of finals week, I got a taste again of what it means to just play and have fun, which I need to do more often.  I went on a spontaneous ice cream run with my roommate. I went to the Pinnacles. I watched the Sandlot for the first time. I played knockout and kickball.

And then life came knocking at my door. Well, it was actually more of my parents calling. They would be at my apartment in a few minutes to help me finish packing.

I said goodbye to my friends. I drove down Stadium Boulevard, windows down, warm summer air rolling in, and I thought, “Man, this place is beautiful.”

I smiled this time instead of tearing up.

I turned right on Providence, passing Farout Field, thinking thanks, Columbia.

This idea of gratitude had been floating around in my head. A good friend of mine (who is also an inspiration) said among the plethora of thank you notes she had written, she had one for the owners of Uprise Bakery—which if you haven’t been, you should.

I kept turning that over in my head. How rich must her experience have been of Columbia’s different communities that she would write a thank you card to her favorite bakery. How fulfilling to look at life a little differently because of new places, people, food and experiences.

I went for a run after work that day. Sun streamed through green leaves as the wind rustled through the forest.

Who was I thankful for? A few people came to mind. What was I thankful for? I found myself struggling to answer this second question because I was thankful for a lot of good that happened to me: landing an internship, finding housing, earning a scholarship to fund the summer, getting good grades.

Those are things that I worked for, but the act of receiving them didn’t change me. I kept thinking what does it mean to be grateful?

First, it is knowing someone or something has changed who you are for the better, or in a way you never quite thought possible.  Joy comes from that recognition, even if the process of change was hard.  Then, a desire to evaluate what I value and how I act on those values.

That last part is the sticking point. You need to act. You need to make a decision to go somewhere, extend a helping hand, otherwise how will you be changed?

Saying thank you means we have to look outside of ourselves for a while, which isn’t necessarily an easy task but one that changes us from the inside out. I think practicing this attunes our senses to what’s happening around us. We listen closer, take more risks and love more openly.

So when I think about adulthood in the safety and comfort of my childhood home, I’m not so scared because I know being an adult is so much more than paying bills and fulfilling responsibilities. It’s about acting out what we believe, loving others and experiencing life in a such a way so that when we’re about to leave this earth we can say, “Thank you.”

This reflection on gratitude means I will do the following:

  1. Making time for play with a group of people that I really cherish.
  2. To find spots and people in my community that I click with.
  3. To find spots and people in my community that challenge me.
  4. To be more productive in the hours that I do work, so that in the hours that I don’t, there’s space for spontaneity.
  5. Finding places where I can volunteer even if it’s just for a short while
  6. I don’t want to open my book of life and see one word, “Work.”

 

 

The Game Plan: I’m figuring it out

Like most of you good folks out there, I’m looking for a summer internship. And like most of you good folks, I’ve figured out the process of figuring out the future isn’t always smooth sailing.

It’s as though my little ship hits a rock every time someone asks me, “So what are you thinking about doing after college?”

My go to answer: “I’m figuring it out.”

Which is true, but can seem like a cop-out unless I’m actively taking steps to come up with my game plan.

One question that I keep coming to is how will what I’m doing next summer put me one step closer to reaching my life goal of improving access to information and education in rural areas of developing countries?

I think I found a potential place that’ll get me on my way: The Inter American Dialogue in Washington D.C.

This non-for-profit think-tank focuses on developing debate and policy solutions to foster more democratic and equal societies. The Dialogue focuses on education, among other policy topics like energy, relations with China and good governance.

For me, an organization like the Dialogue will be part of a process of seeing more of what real-world policy implementation looks like, rather than an abstraction. I can also put my journalistic skills to use here: researching, writing blog posts and articles and asking the question–how does this affect people?

Which came up in a recent conversation with my boyfriend about how education is one of the first steps for communities and countries to grow. The big question for me is how can education policies be sustainable and effective over a long period of time?

 

Getting grounded in what Latin American countries are doing in education is a necessary step to know more precisely what exactly I can be doing in the future.   So in addition to reading more about policy areas The Dialogue focuses on like teacher policy,  quality education for all and skills development, I’ll be spending the next few weeks finding

 

 

Freedom of the press in Colombia

This summer I was lucky enough to spend two months in Bogota, Colombia, learning more about what the situation is for journalists.

A few team members got the ball rolling in late June for an index of freedom of expression in Colombia. I got to be part of the process for a day. We talked with journalist, lawyers, professors and bureaucrats. We talked about what would be important to include and how best to phrase it.

Six months later, there’s now an updated tool to compare how different departments in the country (US equivalent would be states) compare in terms of exercising freedom of press, speech and expression.

Indice Screenshot
Click on the photo for more information.

 

 

Proyecto Antonio Nariño evaluated the aformentioned using fourcategories:

  1. Access to information
  2. Environment to work as a journalist (evaluating the political, legal and professional contexts surrounding a journalist).
  3. Direct aggressions
  4. Impunity

A few things stuck out to me while going through the index in regards to accessing information. When we ask for information or documents from a government office, there’s a decent likelihood we can get them, or at the very least, we’re more certain they exist.

Not so in Colombia. Twenty percent of departments don’t have a public information registry or database. Ninety percent don’t have a clear way to organize documents or archive them.

Talk about making journalism and those data stories tricky when there’s not even a clear way to making sure that it’s there.

It’s hard to keep the government accountable in any country. But when those documents are hard to access, or simply not kept, it’s nearly impossible to do so.

Another element that stood out: Sixty-three percent of journalists knew a colleague who had changed their editorial position because the organization received advertising from the government. Colombian journalism is also finding ways to stay afloat financially.

ISIS, Latin America and Refugees: 5 things I’ve learned

ISIS and Syrian refugees have made big headlines in the past few weeks. If you haven’t been hiding under a rock, then you’ll know the latter group has been highly politicized, with governors (including, sadly, Illinois’ governor) declaring they won’t let refugees in.

So I was curious.  What’ve been the conversations about ISIS and Syrian refugees in Latin America? Turns out, Latin American countries are welcoming refugees with open arms, and Muslim communities are declaring ISIS as Islam’s enemy.

Here are five of the most interesting things I learned while I read a few papers.

  1. Several Latin American countries opened their doors to Syrian refugees early on. Uruguay and Argentina created special programs to resettle refugees since the civil war started in 2011.  Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro said the country would accept 20,000 refugees, according to the Guardian.
  2. Brazil has been the main destination in Latin America for Syrian refugees. Nearly 2,000 people have resettled there since the outset of the war.
  3. Many refugees from Asia, Africa and the Middle East make their way to the United States using well-trodden routes Latin Americans do.
  4. Al Quiblah, Argentina’s first Muslim radio program,  focuses on clarifying fundamental differences between ISIS and the Islam practiced by millions across the globe.
  5. There are between 400,000 and 500,000 people of the Muslim faith living in Argentina. An estimated 5 to 12 million Muslims live in the United States, according to Frontline.

 

Press Pause: Reflection–Journalist? Me? What does that mean?

Tiredness started to set in as I interviewed a source on Thursday. My mind kept wandering. I couldn’t wait to get some sleep. Pay attention, Daniela, I told myself. This is important.

I tried. I really did in that moment.  Then my mind started to wander again.

I started thinking about the past week at my university.  National coverage wasn’t great. Context and nuance were lost in the quick pickup of the story.

How often do I do miss context and nuance? Why do I do this, why do I care and who am I to claim that I can accurately share the experiences of other people?  

Pay attention.

I did my best for the rest of the interview. But I left disappointed.  I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been.

On the drive back to school, I thought more about the bigger picture. I had never asked myself what I as an individual journalist valued in my work. Had I thought about the kind of values that would shape my habits, practice and future stories?

Not really.

I understand the central ethics of good journalism: seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently, be accountable and transparent.  I value those and want to write pieces that reflect exactly that.

But after watching how people reacted to the coverage of the events at Mizzou this week, I also know that what journalists write has an effect, good or bad—nonetheless, the articles people read (or headlines for that matter) shape conversations and perspectives.

That’s a lot of responsibility!  Our audiences aren’t some imaginary folks out there.  So how can I create excellent journalism?

These are a handful of beginning thoughts. The more I continue reporting, the more I’ll add on to this.

  • I want to be a journalist that does research to ask informed and challenging questions.
  • I don’t want to create a narrative and go out to find answers to fit it. That’s not telling other people’s stories. That’s telling my own. And this isn’t about me.
  • I want to have a better understanding of the community around me. That means getting out of my apartment and my usual places. If I believe journalism is a public service, then I better know the public I’m working for (especially as a part of public media *KBIA*).
  • I want to report accurately. That involves being more aware of how and why I might interpret a response one way or the other.
  • I want to be better prepared for interviews. I’ve realized I’m getting a little too confident in my ability to interview a subject. Do I know what my line of inquiry will be? Have I anticipated answers?  I want to get to the deeper questions and the answers they prompt.

Be humble: I don’t know all the answers. That’s why I go out and talk with people.

Be curious: The world is filled with interesting, heart breaking and compelling stories.

Be reflective: Take a few moments to think about what you learned, how you were challenged. What went well? What didn’t go well? And what can you change for the next go around.

I want to be a good journalist so my audience can listen or watch a story that’s accurate, empathetic and fair. I have so much more to experience and learn. But I’m excited for what that will hold (I know failure is mixed in there somewhere, but so is success).

30 Years Later: Remembering the Palace of Justice

This past summer I walked through the pigeon-filled Plaza de Bolivar. People walked by offering to take pictures of you next to a llama. Others sold kernels to feed the hoards of pigeons. Even in the commotion of a holiday afternoon, things were peaceful.

But on November 6, 1985 the commotion was different.

It’s been 30 years since 30 members from leftist guerrila group M-19 sieged the Palace of Justice. Nearly 100 people died, including magistrates as the military tried to re-take the Palace.  Those in the video produced by El Tiempo are family members of people who disappeared between November 6 or 7.

The motivation for the attack was to force the court justices to try then President Belisario Betancour and his defense minister for violating a peace treaty reached 18 months prior.

There’s still ambiguity and for many, there’s not closure. Eleven people disappeared after a tumultuous and fiery 28 hours. They haven’t been found since. Authorities mishandled identifying bodies: destroying evidence and moving victims’ bodies from where they were. It’s still not clear–or there’s not concrete proof–that Pablo Escobar had a hand in financing the siege.

But the wounds are still deep and the distrust still lingers. The military has been accused of violating human rights for forced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial killings. A 2013 Truth Commission showed that the military knew of M-19’s plot, and “let it happen, hoping to launch a ‘ferocious response’ against the guerrillas,” according to a Business Insider article.

Everyone was caught in the crossfire between the government and the drug cartels during these years, whether directly or indirectly.

Our Brand is Crisis: Movie Review

Last night was a first for me: I went to a movie by myself at 9:30 p.m. on a Friday. (It was for an assignment though!) There were four other people in the theater if that tells you anything about the popularity of the political satire.

“Our Brand is Crisis” has its basis in a documentary that shares its name. Released in 2005, the documentary gives unparalleled access to how one American political consulting group built a 2002 Bolivian presidential campaign.

The movie isn’t phenomenal. Sandra Bullock pulls you in, but the rest of the film just moves along. I appreciated some of the context the movie provided though. (If you’ve seen the documentary, there are a handful of parallel scenes in the movie).


Jane Bodine, played by Sandra Bullock, has closed herself off from the world after her career as a well-known political strategist. She’s known as Calamity Jane in political circles, but at the beginning of the movie makes pottery high up in the mountains.

“I’m calm now,” she says.

But that changes as she dives into the world of Bolivian presidential campaigns—she’s in charge of directing the campaign of former president and losing candidate, Castillo. He’s 28 points behind the polls.

The political satire is based on the award-winning documentary with the same name. In the 2005 film, director Rachel Boynton takes us through the back doors and views of how an American political consulting group, Greenberg Carville Shrum, make a Latin American presidential campaign.

As presidential election nears closer we see different sides of Jane: a fierce competitor, an intelligent and ruthless strategist, but also someone who is equally as cynical as she is competitive.  So what exactly is she doing in Bolivia?

In part, it’s personal. And the tango between Jane and her rival Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thorton) is entertaining and provided the majority of the laughs. (She and a few friends she’s made launch a green, slimy ball of some plant at his hotel door).  As we get to know Jane more, we see a little bit more of the satire the film is trying to get across: even if you win a campaign, how successful can you be?

Through the laughs, there are snippets of the political reality that gripped Bolivia in 2002: indigenous groups protesting for better representation, an opposition to more privatization and a history of military coups. These snippets, though brief, made the movie much more believable (not all of Latin America is a hot, steamy jungle).

But the ending lacks in some of the charisma the movie had shown throughout. We don’t leave with a new lesson about politics or its inner workings: “It’s advertising,” Jane says. “And then you profit from it.”

Understanding the balloon effect

Balloons can take on a few roles: a nice gesture representing a cause for celebration, little animals or creators of uncomfortably loud noises.

Little children and adults know these things.  And one thing some do when playing with balloons is squeezing one part of it to only see the air move to another part of the sphere.

That’s what’s been happening throughout the drug supplying countries all over the world: try to move the air out of one part of the balloon and it just goes to another. There seems like there’s a change, but overall the same amount of air is in the balloon, hence the name: the balloon effect.

Many of the supply oriented policies I mentioned last week have this unintended cause: while supply in one area is eradicated, the profitability of the drug trade only has suppliers looking for different locations.

This short video below explains what that looks like:

So what does that mean for the policies in place meant to eradicate drugs?

‘“As a Latin American commission led by three former presidents (of Colombia, Mexico, and Brazil) put it recently: “Prohibitionist policies based on the eradication of production and on the disruption of drug flows as well as on the criminalization of consumption have not yielded the expected results. We are farther away than ever from the announced goal of eradicating drugs.”’

Well, from this Reuters blog, the future isn’t bright. I’m interested in learning more about how policies will play out in the future.

 

 

Fighting the war on drugs: US Policy

Beyond the screen of narco television shows is a whole world of politics and policy.

Questions policy makers deal with range from how to bring drug lords to justice to the most effective way to fight the drug trade.

The latter was at the forefront of Reagan’s mind in the early 80s. Cocaine was making its way to the streets of America, and it was unlike anything the country had seen before.

Because of the eruption of violence and drug money possibly making its way to legitimate business, Reagan decided to change the focus on drug policy from demand to supply.

What did this entail?

Demand-oriented policy focused on:

  • Treatment of those who suffered from addiction
  • An increased cracked down on those who dealt drugs or were involved

Supply-oriented policy focused on:

  • Eradication: Reduce production of illegal substances
  • Interdiction: Reducing the flow of drugs into the United States by patrolling borders

Reagan was able to accomplish the latter policy focus by cutting support for drug treatment by 60 percent 1980-1986.

In 1986 his administration implemented the desertification program, which was a way to push supplying countries to cooperate with US policy–specifically eradication–thus making them eligible to receive funding for the war on drugs.

But has it actually been effective? Read next week to learn about the balloon effect. Doesn’t that sound interesting?