Local journalism: the challenge in Bolivia

Apr 92009

In a recent workshop about journalism, organized by a consortium of universities in Santa Cruz, the brasilian Osman Patzzi, member of the ONADEM -the National Media Observatory-, concluded that local journalism that involves the community, and that talks about its problems, is the future solution for the current crisis that the sector is living due to the impact of digital tools and the world financial difficulties.

Although I had already visited some of them, this last weekend I held my first workshop after several weeks preparing suitable material to answer real journalistic problems, not just theoretical ones. The workshop took place in San Julián, a village controled by the MAS, president Morale's movement, and with huge problems of services, infraestructures and integration. The journalists who attended were everything but homogeneous. All had different stories of how they had arrived to journalism as their profession. In most cases, by chance, while they were thinking how to have a way of living after some years in school. With no previous journalistic training, they started to run alone a small station, doing all you can imagine: writing news, presenting magazines, searching for the advertising that will keep the station running, looking for interviews... In some cases, they have a radiostation and, at the same time, they are part-time teachers, or have a small hamburger shop, or do whatever they can to improve their incomes. Being a journalist in a suburban village or a rural spot in Bolivia needs big commitment in exchange of very little.

How may one approach this reality as a trainer? Is it useful to make a great fuss about the big and untouchable principles of journalism, or about how journalism can force democratic changes and improve societies? These journalists need basic tools that they have not even received through regular school. Don't talk about great principles, I thought; talk about real daily-live journalistic problems to bring some small changes while making them feel that what they do is worthy. And that, above of all,  it is worthy to invest some effort in improving their work and discover new things such as Internet, as I was pretending.  Was I successful? Only time will tell, but I can say that some of them showed true interest in going through this process.

At the end of the workshop, Hugo Áñez, a journalist that owns a small radiostation in the close village of San Ramon, complained because he didn't have the money to buy a satellite dish; some minutes later, in the middle of the street, he found one that some neighbour had thrown away. He immediately entered the house to close a deal about the precious dish. That's how things work here. Lots of imagination with few resources to keep running what, for many communities, is their only means to keep themselves informed: the radio.