In forum "The new long-form journalism in Latin America," journalists, academics seek partnerships to tell better stories

By Alejandro Martínez

Update: Go to the end of the story to see the complete sessions in Spanish with Alarcón and Turati, plus an interview with Gabriela Polit and Cecilia Ballí, professors at the University of Texas at Austin and organizers of the event.

Original: The Chilean narrative journalist Cristian Alarcón and Mexican reporter Marcela Turati talked about two very different topics during the forum “The new long-form journalism in Latin America: A dialogue between academics and journalists," but the two presentations had one theme in common: How to write stories that mirror reality, connect with readers and hold on to their interest.

The forum took place on Feb. 28 at the University of Texas at Austin. The Knight Center followed the event through its Twitter acocunt in Spanish and the hashtag #foronuevacronica.

Mexican journalist Javier Valdez, who was also going to participate in the event, was not able to attend for personal reasons, the organizers said.

The forum was an initiative from academics at the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies and the university's Department of Spanish and Portuguese that sought to take the first step in creating a bridge between journalists and themselves.

Alarcón offered the most concrete example on how to achieve that vision: his online publication Revista Anfibia. The website aims to combine academic investigations with long-form journalism -- a mixture that Alarcón calls "amphibian."

For Alarcón, exploring this experimental space between journalistic and academic production would help journalists see beyond the limits of daily stories and tap into the in-depth knowledge of their collaborators in academia, while helping push journalism forward as an "instrument of knowledge."

For their part, academics would benefit from journalists' more direct experience with the subjects they cover and the opportunity, for example, to access the backstage of politics, said Javier Auyero, a professor of sociology at the University of Texas that joined Alarcón in the panel.

The objective for people in both fields should be to connect and serve society better, Alarcón said. For journalists, the challenge is to break the barrier of language and abandon the "stiff" style of traditional journalism to go in search of people's real language. For academics, it should be to think about themselves beyond the borders of academia.

"I'm tired of hearing 'the important thing is to tell a good story.' We have to tell important stories," Alarcón said. "What I expect from new authors is that they know what the social epidermis is feeling."

In her presentation, Turati -- an award-winning reporter with news magazine Proceso and co-founder of the journalism organization Periodistas de a Pie -- talked about her work during the last six years of violence in Mexico. The question that has always guided her coverage is: How do you tell these stories and keep people interested, keep them from not caring?

As a first attempt, Turati wrote the book Crossfire to tell the country's story through the perspective of the victims. However, now in hind sight, she asks herself if perhaps the book delved too deep into the tragedy.

"In the book presentations people cried and I did too," she said. "Sometimes I think it was too much horror."

In those same presentations, people would often ask her: Is there any hope? In response, the members of Periodistas de a Pie wrote the book From the Ashes, a collection of stories of resistance in Mexico and Turati's most recent attempt to document the effects of violence in a different way.

Her search has meant testing the limits of the profession, she said. She would speak for hours with the victims, only to let them talk it out. They would often end up crying together.

“As a journalist I told myself, I have to do things differently," she said. "Maybe what I did was more sociological."

Watch the presentations in Spanish of Alarcón and Turati below, plus an interview with the organizers of the event:


Sesión de Cristian Alarcón y Javier Auyero durante el foro "La Nueva Crónica Latinoamericana" from Knight Center on Vimeo.

Sesión de Marcela Turati y Nestor Rodríguez durante el foro "La Nueva Crónica Latinoamericana" from Knight Center on Vimeo.

Entrevista con Gabriela Polit y Cecilia Ballí from Knight Center on Vimeo.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.