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latin american adventures on journalism. University of Pittsburgh Press
University of Pittsburgh Press

What can we learn from Latin American journalism?

'Latin American Adventures in Literary Journalism' explores the central role of narrative journalism in the formation of national identities in Latin America

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When Pablo Calvi moved to the US,  first for a masters and later for a Ph.D in Journalism at Columbia university NY., one of the things that caused a bit of a cognitive dissonance in his head was how Latin American journalism was perceived from the point of view of Anglo American journalists. 

In his opinion, the non-partisan and neutral style of Anglo American reporting was in stark contrast with Latin American journalism that valued a storytelling approach seen in “crónicas,” narrative writing that uses elements from the novel, interview and essay.

“There was a certain kind of distance that I could recognize,” Calvi told The Statesman three years ago. “And so that, in turn, threw me into a rabbit hole of trying to find out where my roots for this type of writing were from.”

In “Latin American Adventures in Literary Journalism” (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019), Calvi,  a professor in Stony Brook’s School of Journalism, NY,  explores the central role of narrative journalism in the formation of national identities in Latin America, and the concomitant role the genre had in the consolidation of the idea of Latin America as a supra-national entity.

 This work discusses the impact that the form had in the creation of an original Latin American literature during six historical moments. Beginning in the 1840s and ending in the 1970s, Calvi connects the evolution of literary journalism with the consolidation of Latin America’s literary sphere, the professional practice of journalism, the development of the modern mass media, and the establishment of nation-states in the region.

“Pablo Calvi’s Latin American Adventures in Literary Journalism gives us a historical framework for the relationship between journalism and social and political change, and explores how, in the past, such journalists persuaded publics to change their minds,” wrote Rebecca Janzen, an assistant professor of Spanish and comparative literature  at the University of South Carolina, in Public Books, a digital magazine.

As Janzen puts it, “Calvi shows that Latin American journalists in the 19th and early 20th centuries criticized corrupt governments and were able to persuade their audiences to agree with their ideas about liberal democracy. He reminds us that this criticism came at a personal—and sometimes financial—cost for the journalists.”

Among the examples mentioned in the book, Calvi explains how the press discussed the trial of a  Chilean student, Francisco Bilbao, who was accused of criticizing the ways that the newly independent Chilean government simply mirrored the Spanish imperial power that it had just overthrown.For Calvi, it “signaled the emergence of an unprecedented audience—a nascent postcolonial readership in need of its own voice.”

Calvi also examines the articles that Cuban writer José Martí published in an Argentine newspaper while living in the US. According to Calvi, he employed rhetorical strategies—such as embellishing his source materials for greater effect—to make his articles more interesting for his readers and to further the social impact of his writing. For Calvi, Martí’s journalism was “key to initiating a Hispanic American understanding based on shared culture, interests and shared political goals,” as reported by Janzen. Calvi suggests that because his work was so widely read, it created common goals across Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America, and effectively built this community.

Pablo Calvi, the first non-native English speaker to receive a Pulitzer Traveling Fellowship in the history of the Pulitzer Prizes, is an assistant professor at the School of Journalism, where he teaches courses in multimedia journalism and Latin American literary journalism. He is the associate director for Latin America for the Marie Colvin Center for International Reporting at the School.

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