Friday, December 26, 2014

Press Workshop in San Diego

Press Workshop in San Diego / Ivan Garcia
Posted on December 23, 2014

In early October, when I was invited to a workshop on investigative
journalism at a university in San Diego, the first thing I did was
search the internet for background information on those courses.

I knew that the speakers were superior. It's not every day that an
independent Cuban journalist has the opportunity to dialogue with
reporters from the US of high caliber, some of them Pulitzer Prize winners.

I confess that I had an attack of skepticism when I saw the schedule for
the workshop. The presentations dealt with the border conflict between
Mexico and the United States, new technological tools for investigative
journalism, and how to approach reporting on health and the environment
in a creative and entertaining way.How would I be able to combine those
themes with the reality of my country, which for 56 years has been ruled
by autocrats named Castro? I was mindful also of the existence of a law
which allows the sanctioning of an independent reporter with 20 years of
incarceration, and that the internet is an expensive luxury. In a
country in which the average salary is 20 dollars a month, one hour of
internet connection costs 5 dollars

With those doubts in place I enrolled in the workshop. Twenty-two
colleagues from Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, Guatemala, Panama, Costa
Rica and Cuba, all living in different contexts. Perhaps for the
Venezuelans the realities are analogous. It was an honor to be the first
Cuban to be invited by the Institute of the Americas at the University
of California, San Diego.

I am one of those who believe that journalism is an occupation always
open to new experiences. The workshop was designed in a meticulous
manner. Denisse Fernandez, the assistant, was on top of every detail.
From the accommodations to the transportation, even providing dinner at
the hotel, foreseeing that my arrival in San Diego would be around
midnight on a Sunday.

From the first presentation by reporter Andrew Becker, the workshop
awoke my enthusiasm. To learn of the raw realities of the border of
Tijuana, the emigration problems and drug trafficking seen from a new
perspective was an impactful lesson.

I intend to adapt the tools I learned and the experiences narrated to
the Cuban context. Although the cloister of the workshop presenters was
not typical of academics seduced by Fidel Castro's revolution, the state
of affairs on the island obviously did not preoccupy them.

I had to repeatedly explain to them our reality. And why certain
standards and tools of modern journalism are anachronisms in Cuba, where
there is no requirement for an institution to disclose information or

Yes, certain web applications for use in investigative journalism were
novel. But if I do not have internet access in my home, nor is there
public access to the internet, not to mention that many websites are
blocked, how can one use these tools?

"Can you imagine, " I said to Lynne Walker, one of the most
extraordinary journalists I have ever known, "If I were to ask my boss
at Diary of the Americas for $2000 to cover a story, when they operate
under a minimal budget?

"If I took eight weeks to report a story I would simply die of hunger.
The independent journalism that is done in Cuba, in web pages that
receive funding from foreign institutions or newspapers with scarce
financial means would not allow that.

"They operate like meat grinders. You must constantly be submitting
articles, and because there is no profitable business model, digital
journalism becomes an establishment of survivors."

Lynne listened to my arguments with patience. Smiling she replied, "Then
we submit to defeat. Will we be stopped by the fear of being murdered by
a drug cartel in Tijuana, of being unemployed in Caracas, of being
poorly paid or having no internet access in Cuba? It's all about being
creative. Overcoming barriers. And always think big. Never accept a No.
Those are the basic rules."

Besides gaining new knowledge and learning new journalism techniques,
the best part were the ties of friendship made with Latin American
colleagues. Because of the slightly egocentric mentality of many
Cubans, we tend to believe that our political and social problems are
the most severe in the world.

But you must modify your way of thinking when you meet reporters of
interior Mexico who for months have had to operate with police escort
because of narcotrafficking, or men like Columbian Fabio Posada who was
chief of an investigative unit of the newspaper El Espectador, or John
Jairo, who frequently receives death threats since reporting a story in

With the six Venezuelan reporters attending the workshop I shared an
almost natural chemistry. They are now living through what we
experienced in Cuba 56 years ago. The compadres of the PUSV (United
Socialist Party of Venezuela) intend to dismantle piece by piece
democratic institutions and freedom of expression.

Certainly, Cuba continues to be substandard in the exercise of freedom
of the press. But the rest of Latin America is not doing much better.

Ivan Garcia

Photo: The participants of the Investigative Journalism Workshop
(November 10-14, 2014) display certificates earned on the last day.
Taken from the blog Journalism of the Americas.

Trip report (IV)

Translated by: Yoly from Oly

Source: Press Workshop in San Diego / Ivan Garcia | Translating Cuba -

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