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Thursday, July 18, 2013

“Journalism is not dead, it’s just changing quickly”

By James Grainger
News Editor

Name: Daniel Schweimler
Born: London, 1962 Lives in: Buenos Aires
Profession: Journalist
Work: British local media, Buenos Aires Herald, BBC, China Central TV (CCTV),freelance.
Education: “Limited!” Last book read: What is the What? by Dave Eggers
Last film watched:Invictus

Daniel Schweimler is a British journalist who has lived in Argentina since 2006. He began his career in England in local print media but quickly found himself drawn to life beyond Albion. After travelling and working in Latin America, he returned to England in 1989 and began working for the BBC World Service and as a foreign corre- spondent in Mexico (1993-1994), Spain (1998-2000) and Cuba (2001-2002). He moved to Argentina permanently in early 2006, as the BBC’s South America corre- spondent. In February 2012, he began re- porting for China Central TV (CCTV), cover- ing Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile and Bolivia. Daniel lives in Colegiales with his Argentine wife, Claudia, and their two chil- dren: Benjamin (15) and Lucas (13). 

Daniel, you’ve have had a long career that’s taken you to many interesting places. Why and how did you get into journalism?

It was something I decided when I was 14,15. How and why? It’s hard to remember in a way. I always fancied myself as someone who could write, and it turns out writing has little to do with journalism (laughs), I mean, it benefits you but it’s not the place to go if you want to discover yourself as a writer. But as you later find out, your romantic notions are never really based in reality (laughs).

Once upon a time, you worked for the Her- aldI believe?

Yeah. I was there in 1989 for a short while, the time of hyper-inflation in Argentina — we were paid twice a month! I was on the international pages and it was a fascinating time in world history... there was a great joy in doing the news, staggering off to a bar in Plaza Italia and then the next morning seeing our papers on the kiosco. It was history unfolding.

You worked for the BBC for 19 years after that?

Yes, Christmas 1989 I went back, penniless, jobless and they were advertising for staff and producers at the BBC World Service. They’d realized they’d made some mistakes — they’d called Rio the capital of Brazil twice and things like that and they needed people with fundamental knowledge of Latin America... it was March 1990 I got the job for the BBC. The World Service is a wonderful place to work, it’s this font of knowledge and experience.

And later you worked in Mexico, Spain, Cuba and Argentina? You were based in the coun- tries?

 Yeah, Mexico first, then Spain, then Cuba, then Argentina. Mexico in those days was at a crossroads (in 1993). It was kind of joining the First World, the economy was doing well... and then on January 1, 1994, they had the Chiapas uprising. My first real big story. So I got to go down and cover it...

And what was that like? Scary?

A little bit scary, yes. But the demands are so great, you don’t have time to be scared. I was petrified when I first arrived in Mexico though. I remember lying in this room in this apartment in Mexico City and there was a huge map on the wall... all these regions I’m meant to be covering and I’m thinking to myself, “How the fuck am I going to do this?” I had no idea. I don’t think I slept for the first two months, Chiapas was a baptism of fire. The one thing you learnt is to get to the action quickly. Don’t fart around at the edges.

And what about Cuba?

Cuba was very different. It was a much more difficult place to work, because of access to information...

I was going to ask...

Well, you’re bugged for a start. Everything’scontrolled. You know that yourphone is bugged. You know that your cleaner may well be... well, not spying on you exactly, but they get that job because they work for the Ministry.

And what was the hardest gig you had to do in these years?

Well... maybe the Chiapas, that was dangerous but I was naive so I didn’t really realize. Riots are dangerous here too. In 2001, I was in Cuba and they sent me here for the riots in Plaza de Mayo because I was the “nearest” correspondent. So I got here, checked in and thought I would wander down to the Plaza de Mayo to get the pulse and I walked straight into a cloud of tear gas. Actually, just taking a bus in Lima is probably the most dangerous thing you can do in Latin America (laughs)... maybe crossing the road in La Paz (laughs).

And you were South America correspondent from 2006-2009?

Yeah, 2009 that came to an end. was freelancing and I did a bit of everything, for the Financial Times, The Guardian, The Economist. And then the Chinese came along at the end of 2011 with the elections here and they were looking to start up an English-language branch of CCTV...

So you’ve done a bit of everything really... radio, TV, print...

Yes and increasingly online too! TV was often the thing I did less of then, but it’s quite nice to concentrate on that now.

And circumstances allow it to be done a lot easier now too...

Yeah, cameras are smaller... you can edit... I mean the night of Cristina’s election (in 2011), we edited our piece in a café off the Avenida de Mayo! Recorded the voice track in a car, in the back of a taxi, got to the café, ordered some beers and pizza and we sent it from there.

That’s amazing!What are your thoughts on journalism today?

I think there’s plenty of room to be optimistic  about journalism. Some guy with an iPhone and a camera can do some great reporting... I think what’s happening more and more is people are specializing because of the new technology. And to be a specialist, you have to be good at what you do. Journalism is not dead, it’s just changing quickly and fundamentally more than it ever has done. And I think the old guys, people my age (laughs), are struggling to live with the change.
But then the fundamentals are still there, they’re the same — good writing, asking the right questions... the technology will change, but these principles remain the same. There are terrible things happening too. I think of the centralization of information. Also, technology is getting better, more flexible, cheaper, so in theory we should have more foreign correspondents dotted everywhere, yet that we are seeing is less and less.

And what about Argentine journalism?

There’s more and more focus on Buenos Aires. Argentina is this huge, fascinating, diverse country and I don’t see it in the Argentine media. That’s a journalistic problem though, not just a tourism problem. There doesn’t seem to be an appetite in Clarínor La Naciónto report on what’s going on in say, Chaco. But this isn’t just an Argentine problem, it’s a world problem.

And what about the government and its relationship to journalists?

In any democracy, you want as much openness and access to people as possible. And I think the polarization of the media here is a problem. Lots pro, lots against and no one in the middle. It’s a country of analysts, journalists are analysts rather than journalists. And I think that is a problem. But the reaction to that is the alternative media, which is growing here.

@wlgoeshere

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