Journalism and science for the construction of the social network.
The journalistic exercise rescues the memory of the territories and evidences their scourges; it weaves relationships between people and gives voice to those who have never had it before. This exercise of narrating reality provides an opportunity to transform it through words, recreating stories that merge data and real facts with the aesthetic vocation of fiction. As García Márquez used to say: “the chronicle is a story that is true”.
The contemporary fusion of diverse disciplines such as journalism, literature, and transmedia narratives, as well as the profound challenges of the new century, have put on the table the need to rethink how we tell our stories, taking into account that words can be a powerful tool for the inhabitants of the territories to interpret their environment and reconfigure it. Under this logic, stories cease to be a repository of perishable content and become an opportunity to promote collective action and social change.
Panama, between lines
With the firm purpose of promoting the development of narratives aligned with these new perspectives and based on scientific evidence, the collective of Concolón Journalists, the City of Knowledge Foundation, CREHO (for its acronym in Spanish) (Ramsar Regional Center for Training and Research on Wetlands for the Western Hemisphere), the International Center for Political and Social Studies (for its acronym in Spanish) (CIEPS) and the United Nations Development Program in Panama (UNDP), convened the participation in the workshop “Thinking the Future / Telling Panama“, (Talking about Panama) a training project, designed to illuminate non-fiction stories in different formats that contribute to think of Panama, in an era shaken by the changes brought about by the pandemic.
At Concolón we bet on a journalism that does not live dragged by the urgency. A journalism that needs to be slow and that dialogues with knowledge to be profound, in addition to seeing, and investigating reality until it is understood ”, says Sol Lauría, Concolón co-founder and general coordinator of the Workshop. “The pandemic, which plunged us into the uncertainty of a new universe, required us to stop, think and have that rest and help of essential allies who have helped us improve the quality of journalism and, with that, of public conversation in Panama ”, he adds.
Sixteen journalists, communicators, social leaders, writers, students, academics, and others involved in this purpose, participated in virtual sessions whose objective was to share tools to write about the situation of the country, from the perspective of five key themes: crisis of democracy, environment, human rights, culture, and challenges of the pandemic. “I really value the talks, seminars, and conversations with the experts, because they broadened our horizons to see different perspectives that we usually don’t have when writing. For example, how to tell better real-life stories, from fiction or gender perspectives, including a human rights language,” says Dalia Pichell, investigative journalist at La Prensa and participant in the sessions.
During the process, the selected participants had the opportunity to learn about various cutting-edge theoretical frameworks, participate in reflection spaces, and put into practice tools to enhance their skills. With a story ready to tell, they lived an immersive learning experience that lasted eight weeks, in which they had the opportunity to attend open classes with the best exponents of the genre and experts on the subject in Latin America; in addition to receiving closed group classes, individual clinics with teachers, and text editing.
Development of the workshop
The first session, led by Guido Bilbao, Chronicler/Documentarian, Sol Lauría, founding member of the Concolón Collective and general editor of Concolón Magazine, and Harry Brown Araúz, Director of CIEPS, began with a look at journalism in the light of contemporary thought, opening the debate on the main issues that should be told, the how, where, and why. In addition, they discussed the crisis of democracy in the Panamanian context, the new leaderships, and the political fractures of the territory.
Along the same lines, participants were able to discuss the importance of narrating inequalities, in a session focused on polishing those details such as the author’s voice and style: the details, the atmosphere, and the contexts. “Human rights should be more than a sporadic talk in educational settings, and instead become a transversal experience” states Nelva Araúz Reyes, researcher at CIEPS, one of the partner organizations for the achievement of the program.
Guido Bilbao and Emilio Fernández Cicco, journalist, teacher, and author, discussed narrative journalism to tell reality with fictional resources in another session. In addition, they shared key tools to carry out rigorous investigative processes and escape the clichés when writing.
In a space led by Jessica Young, UNDP National Officer for Environment and Sustainable Development in Panama, and Joseph Zárate, journalist, writer, and editor from Peru, participants were invited to think about the future from an ecological perspective: “literature and journalism are key to learning about the wonders of nature, the importance of natural resources, biodiversity for life, the immensity of space or the oceans, how to combat climate change, or our connection with other beings…communication plays a fundamental role in empowering people and involving them in decision-making processes, both individually and collectively, because only what is known and valued is protected,” said Young.
Sol Lauría, Nelva Araúz and Leila Mesyngier, editor of Anfibia Magazine, addressed the limits and challenges of feminisms in the region, as well as the macho narratives in times of pandemic and the splinters (factions) they leave in our society. The sessions focused on the promotion of a journalism that takes a clear position on the issues that concern us as a society today.
The last sessions unfolded as spaces for construction, where participants were given the task of putting into practice what they had learned and sharing their journalistic creations with the group of experts, who provided feedback on the process and accompanied them until the end: “Having the opportunity to share with others gives you the possibility of refreshing your vision. In the workshop, I encountered multiple discourses, and that allowed me to de-automatize. Reading other people who do not have the same way of thinking, and writing with them, talking about what concerns us, allowed us to find unique problems that touch us collectively and that makes me appreciate sitting at the table with people who are teaching me to rethink the world, “said Francia Herrera, musician, writer, filmmaker, and music lover.
The program closed with “writing is re-writing”, a space for editing the texts where the importance of revising the narration and polishing in detail the elements of the texts to generate impeccable deliverables was discovered.
“I learned to write with a thick brush and a small brush, that is, I understood the importance of editing as a process even more important than the initial writing. What I value most about the workshop was sharing with people with so much experience… Getting close to people with so many skills left me with many lessons that I will take with me for my process of becoming a better writer,” says Gabriel García de Paredes, economist and writer.
Once all the sessions were over, the participants handed in their final texts. These are being published in the digital edition of Revista Concolón (Concolón Magazine), which is now available on its website.
City of Knowledge, building a city
For its part, the City of Knowledge Foundation (Fundación Ciudad del Saber), as an innovative community that promotes social change through humanism, science, and business, has been working hard to consolidate this type of collaborative partnerships, where people connect to create together. In this specific case, the goal was to promote journalism that builds social change: “At the City of Knowledge we are convinced that actions like this have a great multiplying and transforming effect,” says David Aguilar, Business Manager of the City of Knowledge Foundation.
After the process, it was rewarding for all parties to discover themselves, looking at Panama from another perspective: “The workshop definitely marked a before and after in the attendees. A firm commitment to the stories was evident at the end, framing them in rigorous research of all sources and respecting a constructive language,” added Araúz. This theoretical-practical learning space led to the empowerment of journalists as active agents of society, through the exercise of understanding human connections, the dynamics experienced in the territories, and their changing realities. In this way, the participants assumed the commitment to continue working to weave society through the word.