October 1, 2014
Still best job in the world?
Gabo, Laclau, Verón
Gabriel García Márquez’s established his school of “new journalism” in the mid-1990s in sync with a boom of journalism universities oriented to the formation of communication intellectuals rather than reporters. It is at least a coincidental paradox that he died on the same week of the passing of two of the main representatives of what came to be known as communication/political studies: Eliseo Verón and Ernesto Laclau.
García Márquez’s “new” journalism was actually old and traditional: classic journalism. ‘Gabo‘, who was already a Nobel Laureate, opened the school to ‘make a pause in academic training‘ and ‘go back to the primary system of small-group workshop training.‘
“The more academic schools of journalism are founded, the clearer it becomes that they teach many things that are useful to the trade of journalism, but very little about the trade itself. And almost nothing about two very important issues: practice and ethics,” García Márquez said in the opening of the first activity organized by his foundation in 1995 (http://especialgabo.fnpi.org/las-ideas-de-gabo/discurso-inaugural-fnpi/ ) .
A year later, he would expand on this idea in a keynote speech titled Journalism: the best job in the world before the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) annual assembly in Los Angeles, “Journalism is an unappeasable passion that can be assimilated and humanized only through stark confrontation with reality. No one who does not have this in his blood can comprehend its magnetic hold, which is fuelled by the unpredictability of life. No one who has not had this experience can begin to grasp the extraordinary excitement stirred by the news, the sheer elation created by the first fruits of an endeavour, and the moral devastation wreaked by failure. No one who was not born for this and is not prepared to live for this and this only can cling to a profession that is so incomprehensible and consuming, where work ends after each news run, with seeming finality, only to start afresh with even greater intensity the very next moment, not granting a moment of peace.” (http://especialgabo.fnpi.org/las-ideas-de-gabo/el-mejor-oficio-del-mundo/)
In that IAPA meeting, García Márquez was trying to convince the media moguls of the continent to support his initiative and invest in the training of their journalists. “The media would do well to support this rescue mission, either in their newsrooms or through scenarios created for that express purpose, in a manner akin to the aircraft simulators who recreate every incident that can occur in flight so that students can learn how to avoid disaster before they actually encounter it in real life.”
Almost 20 years after those speeches, García Márquez arguably lost the battle — at least by looking at the state of journalism, and its relationship with media outlets and governments, in the region. Wars to the finish between administrations an intellectual like Laclau defined positively as “populist” and large media conglomerates over the construction of social meaning as theorized by Verón. García Márquez would complain about how journalism academies turned into schools of communication instead, where students learn to debate media and journalism rather than do the job.
As reference names for at least two generations, Verón and Laclau left the ivory tower of academia over the last few years to join the more day-to-day political dirt. Laclau was tagged as one of the main intellectual inputs for confrontational politics in the Kirchner era. Verón appeared before the Supreme Court last year to back Grupo Clarín’s arguments in a legal bout over the 2009 Media Act. Their intervention — more radical in the case of Laclau — proved it is not always easy to translate brilliant ideas into coherent political action.
And yet journalism in its most basic form still fights death. One of the world’s most prestigious schools of journalism granted the Pulitzer award for public service this week to the series of stories published by the Washington Post and the Guardian based on the documents leaked by Edward Snowden from the US National Security Agency (NSA) on web surveillance. The Pulitzer judges said the Post delivered “authoritative and insightful reports that helped the public understand how the disclosures fit into the larger framework of national security.” And the Guardian, “aggressive reporting to spark a debate about the relationship between the government and the public over issues of security and privacy.”
Unofficially, the Pulitzer also goes to Snowden, who some consider a traitor to his nation and others a global civil liberties champion. Congressman Peter King, a Republican from New York, tweeted that “Awarding the Pulitzer to Snowden enablers is a disgrace.” Snowden himself said awarding the top prize in US journalism to the papers that published his stuff was “a vindication for everyone who believes that the public has a role in government.” It continues to be ironic that Snowden is enjoying his asylum in Russia, where the public’s role in government is at least debatable.
From a historical point of view, the award goes to the focus of journalism work: a passion for reality geared toward the public. It is good it was announced on the same week the journalist García Márquez was bid a last farewell.