From architect to journalist, Carlos Eduardo Huertas has been a cornerstone in building what he calls 'the vibrant Latin American city of journalism.'
For more than a decade, Huertas has driven transnational collaborative journalism in Latin America through Connectas.
Through this initiative, hundreds of investigations have been published despite adverse conditions in the region (violence, organized crime, low wages, poor access to information, etc.) and the team has received at least 85 awards for journalistic excellence.
These awards include one presented this past Oct. 18, in New York City, by the Columbia University School of Journalism. Huertas was selected this year as one of the gold medalists of the Maria Moors Cabot Prize, the oldest international journalism awards in the world.
"Huertas has cultivated a journalistic method that has strengthened the skills of hundreds of colleagues in the region. This approach is clearly reflected in the outstanding journalism found in Connectas," the jury said in an announcement of the winners.
Huertas was awarded alongside June Carolyn Erlick (ReVista-The Harvard Review of Latin America) and Joshua Goodman (Associated Press) from the United States and Alejandra Xanic (Quinto Elemento Lab) in Mexico.
"The first thing you ask yourself when you receive news like this is whether you deserve it," Huertas told LatAm Journalism Review (LJR) about the moment he learned of the award. For him, it has not only been an emotional moment but also an opportunity for introspection.
In conversation with LJR, Huertas spoke about his participation in exposing hidden truths in Latin America, about the characteristics that good journalism should have, and also about the future of the profession.
"I believe that the region and the times we are living in demand journalism that calls a spade a spade and vindicates the rights and needs of the most vulnerable," he said.
The following is the interview with Carlos Eduardo Huertas, which has been edited for clarity and conciseness.
1. You are the 24th Colombian to be recognized by the Cabot Prizes. How do you feel about receiving this award?
Carlos Eduardo Huertas: Without a doubt, the greater the recognition, the greater the responsibility.
Those who’ve had the opportunity, and the honor, to precede me in this recognition are colleagues with outstanding careers. Receiving this award, the oldest international recognition in journalism, has helped them gain greater visibility and boost their careers. In my case, I believe that by recognizing my career, what is being highlighted is the way in which we have opened a path that leaves a mark and consolidates a method that sparks transformations and opens opportunities. I believe this is its main value.
The day I received the call, I was so excited. The first thing you ask yourself when you receive this kind of news is whether you deserve it. It’s a moment of personal reflection. This was mentioned at the time by a Latin Americanist named Malcolm Deas when he received an Honoris Causa and I remembered the same thing: To see if in fact one has the merits for a distinction of this category and, well, the large number of genuine, generous and warm greetings that were triggered by the news, are a good indicator that we are moving forward on a good path and that gave us a lot of comfort.
2. Connectas has published hundreds of investigations and has received at least 85 awards in recognition of its journalistic excellence. This, despite the adverse conditions in Latin America: violence, organized crime, low salaries, little access to information, etc. Why have you persisted for so many years doing investigative journalism in the region?
Investigative journalism has never been a bed of roses. Exposing truths that seek to be hidden by someone who has the power to hide them obviously makes it difficult. The difference is that today the profession is practiced in a more complex environment where changes in the industry and in how information flows impose new challenges. In Martin Baron's recent book, Collision of Power, in the epilogue he calls on journalists in the United States to look at the tenacity, courage, ability, and even the good humor with which journalism is practiced in Latin America. That is also very exciting. The obsession we have is because we can do a more measured journalism, one that thinks and focuses more on transformations and does not succumb to the metrics of audiences, a useful journalism that favors facts over speculation and adjectives.
3. In several interviews you have spoken about the importance of continuing to promote "good journalism." What are the characteristics of good journalism?
In addition to what I’ve already said, here I’d like to paraphrase Nobel Prize winner Maria Ressa, for her journalistic work. In her book How to Stand Up To a Dictator, she talks about good journalism, which is not faint-hearted when confronting abuse of power, but rather puts it in its place, while vindicating victims’ rights. I can relate to that posture. I believe that the region and the times we’re living in demand journalism that calls a spade a spade, and vindicates the rights and needs of the most vulnerable.
4. Some of us have the perception that journalism as we know it is dying (closure of BuzzFeed, National Geographic, etc...), but it’s not clear where it's headed or what the way forward is. How do you see the future of journalism?
Obviously, there is no crystal ball to see clearly into that future. What I see are very dramatic changes in the industry and very dramatic changes in the way journalism is done, but these can be either positive or negative depending on how each journalist or each organization deals with them.
Changes in the industry fundamentally break or crack the business model that had existed and make it very difficult to find formulas for sustainability business-wise. It’s not impossible, but it’s quite difficult. However, it vindicates journalism’s social function and in that sense it can find a better connection with its audiences or with other sectors.
For example, in philanthropy, to be able to support journalism in much more modest ways than the great journalistic industries of the last century. But rather to support the work of good journalism, of independent journalism. I think that’s the crux of the matter, to match the work we do with social utility and interests of different sectors, including our audiences that are interested in a journalism that serves.
And in practice, I believe that multiple tools are coming, as they’ve always been, and they’re becoming ever more present. But, as I mentioned before, the goal is not to surrender to an "imposition" or those waves of enthusiasm that come with the use of technologies, but rather that quality and journalistic ability predominate. And how journalists have the ability to use these new technologies, these new resources, to continue doing journalism that investigates, questions, confronts, fact-checks, and disseminates facts in an honest, independent way.
5. And since we are talking about the future, how do you see your future in journalism?
We began this conversation by talking about how the Cabot Prize was recognizing my journey of blazing a trail, leaving a mark, consolidating a method, sparking transformations and opening opportunities. I think my future will remain the same: to keep pedaling so that this can be maintained and, in the case of Connectas, it’ll be to continue supporting the region.