Death by Byline
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It was not company protocol to text the journalist during her trip; it was a safety measure designed just for the occasion. Although, recently, while I was working with Greg Brosnan, a documentary filmmaker for London’s Channel 4, I learned that my improvised methods could quickly become protocol.
Brosnan was working on a very sensible documentary about violence in Guatemala that explains how this tiny country found itself in the middle of a voracious drug war. I was hired as his contact person in Guatemala, and soon the time came when he had to travel to the “red zone” of Petén and Cobán to interview people about the beheaded attorney and peasants.
I stayed behind in the capital, but I had to be in contact with him. There were two specific hours during which I definitely had to speak with him and then email his headquarters to report that he was fine. Of course I called him more than I was supposed to.
I fear the day that I call a journalist and get no answer, and I ask myself: Is this the way we should practice journalism in Guatemala?
I still sign my articles. I keep saying to myself and others that I will recognize when there is a threat ahead. But I am not the only one in danger; today many Guatemalans leave their homes in the morning, praying to return alive at night, and wonder when this culture of violence and fear is going to end.
Claudia Méndez Arriaza is a reporter for elPeriódico de Guatemala and the recipient of a 2012 fellowship to study the politics of emerging democracies at Harvard. Excerpted from Sampsonia Way (Sept. 2011), a publication of City Asylum Pittsburgh devoted to free speech and creative expression. www.sampsoniaway.org
Have something to say? Send a letter to firstname.lastname@example.org. This article first appeared in the January-February 2012 issue of Utne Reader.
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