In the spring of 2004, a team of four Goshen College students and two faculty members traveled to El Salvador to report on fair trade coffee. The students went with specific roles in mind: as photographer, writer or videographer. During the week there, they watched the coffee production process, visited with coffee growers, met with economists and other guest presenters, and . . . drank a lot of coffee. Back home in Goshen, they wrote articles, produced a video documentary, created a Web site, spoke in chapel and churches, and continued to . . . drink a lot of coffee.
It was a trial run of the Peace and Justice Journalism Program, made possible by Plowshares with supplemental funding from the CALL grant and Mennonite Central Committee. The idea for the trip emerged in a reporting class as students talked about grounding journalism in some of the strengths of the college, like the core values that guide us toward becoming global citizens and compassionate peacemakers. We talked about focusing on the dispossessed and the downtrodden in the world, telling stories from the margins.
Traditionally, such reporting marked one of the strengths of journalism. But increasingly news organizations are part of large corporations that focus on the bottom line and want news that is cheap, light and entertaining. With that mindset, there’s little interest in covering poor coffee growers in El Salvador. Or in reporting on the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa, as students did in the spring of 2005, in the second major trip, this one to Swaziland.
Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times columnist who goes against the industry currents in trying to make Americans aware of moral issues like the genocide in Darfur, shared a letter from one disgruntled reader: “Why should the U.S. care for the rest of the world? The U.S. should take care of its own. People have been in Africa for thousands of years – and look at their progress during those years. Tribal still!”
Our hope is to foster on a small-scale journalism that does care “for the rest of the world,” whether that is in Swaziland, El Salvador or closer to home. At its best, such journalism can be personally transforming for students who participate, and can expand minds and touch hearts whereever audiences are found. And at its best, such journalism would look to partners like Mennonite Central Committee, which have a grass-roots depth of knowledge that can shift reporting away from a reflexive reliance on government and elite sources.
The program is committed to pursuing reporting both at home and abroad. Three projects were funded in 2006: 1) P& JJ Student Video Documentary Contest; 2) Special newspaper report on the City of Goshen 2006; Video documentary on the role of three churches in rebuilding South Africa after apartheid.
–Duane Stoltzfus, chair of the Advisory Council for the Peace and Justice Journalism Program