Last week I had the opportunity to leave one country deep in protest, the US, for a country in an even bigger state of unrest, Mexico.
Organizers for the 10th annual Encuentro Internacional de Periodistas, part of The FIL a massive international book fair (focused on Latin American authors) held every year in Guadalajara, invited me to give a talk about the Listening Post project.
The day I arrived, portraits of 43 teacher college students — abducted and murdered in Guerrero, Mexico in September — were hanging near my hotel. Massive protests against the Mexican government were taking place in Guadalajara, Mexico City, and other parts of the country, with some even turning into riots.
It just so happened that back in New Orleans we were working on a segment for the Listening Post about the history and culture of protest in this city, so my mind was already on the topic that greeted me in the form of screaming and marching college students, when I set foot in Guadalajara.
The first day of the conference I attended a talk by a woman whose daughter was abducted during the Dirty War of 1970s Argentina. She had only just tracked down her grandson, who was stolen by the military government and placed with another family after her daughter was executed. She talked about her famous decades long protest in Buenos Aires in the Plaza de Mayo. At one point a man wearing a tee-shirt bearing the likeness of his son got up to speak. He was the father of one of the 43 "disappeared" students, and wanted advice from the Argentine on how to move forward with his own protest against the Mexican government.
One of the focuses of this year’s FIL was “periodismo social” — social journalism. The Listening Post was invited to talk about its brand of civic engagement through media, and share some of the recipe of how to expand information outreach to communities that are less likely to be connected to the news.
I shared a panel with two amazing Mexican-born journalists. The first, Elva Narcia, is a veteran of the BBC and also of international media trainings in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and South Sudan. The other was Cristina Sezati, the creator of “Corresponsales de la paz,” Peace Correspondents. We took turns sharing our different methods of reaching marginalized audiences with essential news and information. We also talked about the importance of covering social themes like housing, employment, safety and security, and education.
I spoke specifically about the Listening Post's attempts to share and solicit information from local New Orleanians about some of the biggest challenges facing the city. I explained why cell phones are a unique and increasingly effective way to connect audiences to important information all over the world. And I also played audio from some of the many voices that have been recorded through the Listening Post sculptures around the city.
I had to translate from English to Spanish on the fly, but people loved hearing New Orleans voices and identified deeply with excerpts about violence — something Mexican society knows only too well these days.
Audience members at the Encuentro asked me my thoughts on funding non-mainstream media projects, and how to get mainstream media more interested in social journalism topics like education, healthcare, and poverty. Also, how to create media that gives audiences a more solutions-focused message.
As part of my talk I also set up a small Listening Post text messaging experiment, where attendees answered questions about protests in Mexico. It was great to see the interest in the important civic media work we are engaged in here in New Orleans, and also how easily the concept resonated with, and could be expanded to, a Mexican audience.