Journalist reflects on recent ivoh talk in Chile and her newfound hope for media
Paulette Desormeaux (center) with Base Pública director Nicolás Cruz and journalists Gabriela Campillo, Francisca Pacheco and Pedro Ramírez. Credit: Pablo Donoso.
Paulette is the Journalistic Director of Base Pública, a new nonprofit online media organization that focuses on increasing citizens’ interest in public issues. She also teaches investigative journalism at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. She is founder and president of Red de Periodistas Chile, the first association that promotes investigative journalism in Chile, and runs the photographic project “Niñas y niños de Chile,” which focuses on children and their incredible stories.
Editor’s note: Paulette attended an ivoh talk in Chile and reflected on it in the essay below.
I came back to Chile in 2011 after some years of living and studying abroad. I remember being scared of moving back to Santiago, and my heart shrunk a bit as the plane landed. Five years have since passed, and the idea of migrating again has always been fixed in the back of my mind.
Social stratification hurt, as did the culture of competition, and the way I felt constantly judged by my name, the university where I studied, and the media field I worked in. My perspective began to change a couple of weeks ago, though, after I attended an Images and Voices of Hope event in Santiago, Chile.
For the first time in many years, I felt like I found a community in my country. I realized that, right here, right now, there was something very interesting happening among my colleagues. I learned that as media practitioners we are changing the paradigm from competition to collaboration, and I witnessed the practice of reflecting collectively about the impact of the stories we tell and why we tell them.
As I heard Carola Fuentes — a journalist I deeply admire — talk about “warning journalism” as a model that could help prevent social wrongdoings, a new space of belonging emerged in my heart. There were many people present who were younger and older than me, some working in mainstream media and others focusing on their own projects. The common thread was that they all wanted to change the way we work as journalists. Attendees seemed to honestly and deeply care about the consequences of our narratives and expressed a willingness to reflect on how we could work together to have a better impact.
My first job after coming back to Chile was as a reporter at a mainstream newspaper. I was young and I tried to tell stories that mattered socially. But it didn’t really work out. I also started looking back at my former experience as a journalist in mainstream TV. I worked in newsrooms with very talented well-intended journalists. Why were our stories representing people in such a negative or stereotypical way? Why was conflict the main news value? I felt inspired during the ivoh meeting when I heard other journalists asking the same questions at my discussion table. They also added relevant insights about telling stories that uplift people and communities.
We had the chance to hear about inspiring projects from a group of up-and-coming media professionals and organizations such as MAFI, whose team is producing documentaries by youth who live in shanty towns. The MAFI team is not concerned with audience figures, ratings, shares and “likes,” but rather wants to produce meaningful, ethical and honest stories. Its ambition seems to stem from portraying the richness and diversity of Chileans in a better and fairer way.
Likewise a representative from ChileDoc, a global network of filmmakers, explained how it promotes bonds that strengthen all sorts of opportunities for documentary filmmakers. The organization openly shares resources and information about funds and festivals and fosters the integration of Chilean documentaries in the international community. A team member from the 4changemedia project was also present to talk about how the group empowers change-makers through communication strategies and videos.
When Andrés Wood, Enrique García and Nicolás Cruz talked about Base Pública as a concrete alternative to the media system model we know, I felt proud to be part of this new media project that puts citizens at the center of the news-gathering process. (This approach is rather innovative for our country.) The reaction from audience members, who seemed eager to participate in the project, gave me some insight into the importance of what we are trying to build.
At the end of the event, ivoh founder and board president Judy Rodgers reflected on “the power of the powerless.” She mentioned the potential we have as media practitioners when our calling meets the right time in society. As the journalistic director of Base Pública and a journalism teacher at Universidad Católica, I always knew what my calling was. But the ivoh meeting gifted me with the realization that this is also the right time in Chile to work together to build a new way of telling stories, with people at the center of the narratives we tell.
The ivoh event helped me see that I want to stay here and work collaboratively with journalists in the country I call home. The country where I feel a sense of belonging The country whose narratives and images are full of hope.
Related: Community resilience researchers share work at AEJMC conference | 2016 Knight International Awardee Miranda Patrucić on the importance of collaboration in investigative reporting | Highlights from Christa Hillstrom’s keynote speech at the Society for Features Journalism Conference | Exploring media’s role in the aftermath of violence and race-based trauma | Takeaways from ivoh’s Restorative Narrative Colloquium