Despite the challenges, journalists can be agents of change.
This important and encouraging message was the most critical take-away from the symposium, “Journalism for Change”, held last week in Mexico City. Sponsored by the NGO Ashoka, the symposium gathered influential Mexican and Latin American journalists as well as other interested parties like the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), Poynter Institute, Corresponsal de Paz (Peace Correspondent), and the Center for Global Peace Journalism at Park University.
One intriguing and unique example of journalism for change was presented by Molly Swenson of ryot.org. Ryot.org is a website that links news to action—it’s “what’s going on in the news and what you can do about it,” according to the site. For example, at the end of a story about the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, readers can learn more, donate now, or get involved (by joining Swirl, an organization committed to cross-racial dialogue). Swenson told a roundtable discussion that Ryot doesn’t pretend to be objective, and that, in fact, it’s okay to not be objective as long as that bias is known up-front to the readers.
Another journalist for change at the symposium was Pablo Espinosa, director of the Columbian magazine Innovacion Social. Espinosa describes his magazine as taking an alternative viewpoint to most of the Colombian press that eschews sensationalism and offers more analysis and solutions-based reporting.
Of course, the practice of change journalism, and peace journalism, faces many obstacles both in Colombia and Mexico. Javier Garza, a newspaper editor and representative of ICFJ, told a symposium roundtable about the obstacles to responsible journalism posed by both economics and by violence in Mexico. He said the Mexican public suffers from “sensationalism fatigue” because of the onslaught of reporting about drug killings. One related, and chilling, scenario was discussed: Can murders become so commonplace that they cease to qualify as news?
A professor from Universidad Iberoamericano (UI) in Mexico City presented survey data that underscored the challenges that Garza introduced. In a UI survey of Mexican journalists, 50% reported having been threatened by criminals or politicians, 60% reported earning less than 10,000 pesos ($760) per month; and 40% said they work for at least two different media outlets in an attempt to make ends meet. The good news is that despite these problems, a majority of Mexican journalists see themselves as agents of change.
The symposium concluded on an optimistic note, as several break-out group participants pledged to unite to disseminate change-oriented stories and to continue to exchange ideas about how to leverage media for positive change.