The stories of ordinary people, those who do not typically make front page news, have won the 30th Ortega y Gasset Journalism Awards, granted annually by EL PAÍS. This year, the jury has recognized the poignancy of a story about Wikdi, a Colombian child who has to walk five hours every day to go to school, written by Alberto Salcedo Ramos and published in Soho magazine.
The jury described the feature as "the everyday story of invisible people," and underscored "the risk to the main character's life, the road between innocence and horror and the metaphor contained in those five hours that Wikdi takes to get to school each day as an example of the road that is learning and the importance of education."
The other winners are Emilio Morenatti of Associated Press for his photographic depiction of the March 29, 2012 general strike in which a Barcelona storeowner looks on in horror at the damage inflicted on her business by a small group of violent protesters, and Juan Ramón Robles for his video footage of popular protests in September 2012, showing police charges at Madrid's Atocha train station. The winning work in the categories of photojournalism and digital journalism share a lot in common, since they reflect, from different angles, the social conflict and the protests triggered by the economic crisis and the spending cuts in Spain.
“I want visibility for the marginalized”
Wikdi is a slight-framed 13-year-old who lives in Chocó, one of the poorest areas of Colombia. Every day he walks for five hours to get to and from school, along a tortuous path where dozens of donkeys have lost their footing and plunged to their deaths, where paramilitaries have savagely tortured their victims, and where jungle beasts prey around the clock.
Alberto Salcedo Ramos, a Colombian journalist, accompanied the youngster on his trek, and crafted a moving chronicle, La travesía de Wikdi ( or, Wikdi's voyage), which was published in the Colombian magazine Soho in February 2012.
"The trip was a pretext to create a metaphor for education, how hard it is to achieve, and what happens when we lack it," he says. "It allowed me to tell a story that is invisible to most of the country."
Salcedo Ramos introduced the world to Wikdi, who wants to become an English and math teacher, to his father Prisciliano, and to the teachers at Institución Educativa Agrícola of Unguía, a school where there is no cellphone reception and where computers are prehistoric. This chronicler of daily life and supporter of narrative journalism believes, like the French thinker and writer Albert Camus, that journalism is the best trade in the world. Although he also cites the teachings of G.K. Chesterton, chiefly that "journalism largely consists of saying 'Lord Jones is Dead' to people who never knew that Lord Jones was alive."
"My job is to find Lord Jones before he dies," says the Colombian reporter ironically. "This trade allows me to get to know people and places, learn about the human condition and take the news to the readers. It is a responsibility and a privilege."
And even more so in a country where working as a reporter has become a high-risk profession due to the unrelenting threats from the drug rings and the paramilitaries. "I am not trying to gloss over the horror in my country, but rather to give visibility to the excluded characters. Due to a professional perversion, it would seem that the only people who exist are those who die and those who kill. I really believe in cultural journalism and in the possibility of showing people's daily lives beyond the everyday horror."
Of Morenatti's photograph, the jury said: "It creates an emotional response; it is terrifying [in its representation of] the other side of the incidents." "It was practically a war scene," says Morenatti, who knows what he is talking about having covered armed conflicts in the Middle East, Pakistan and Afghanistan, where in 2009 he lost a leg in an attack.
As for the Atocha police charge during the protest known as Surround Congress, Robles, a 25-year-old journalism student at Madrid's Complutense University, says riot officers broke part of his camera, and that most of the 15,000 euros in prize money "will go toward buying equipment."
The jury made a point of highlighting "the growing importance of citizen journalism in the last few years. This video is the best image of the social unrest of last September, and illustrates how citizens' cameras sometimes reach places that the broadcast media cannot." The jury also praised its "clear narrative syntax" while noting that "the number of views indicates readers' interest in information from the frontlines."
Meanwhile, the lifetime achievement award went to Jesús de la Serna, one of the most emblematic figures of Spanish journalism, for his tireless work in modernizing the reporter's trade and for "his work as a teacher and role model for generations of journalists." The jury added: "His generosity, humility, professionalism and honesty make De la Serna one of the outstanding figures in the history of Spanish journalism."
De la Serna, 86, said his career had developed during "a convulsed period in Spanish history." He still recalls the "rudimentary journalism" of the 1950s, when it took great tenacity to overcome the Franco regime's censorship. "Of the eight to 10 hours we worked each day, half were spent fighting censorship," he notes. "We used words with double meanings. Censorship disappeared in 1966 and from then on everything was more benign."
De la Serna was deputy editor of the daily Pueblo and editor of Informaciones before joining EL PAÍS in 1979, where he held several posts, including that of ombudsman. What he enjoyed the most was "walking into the newsroom without knowing what was going to happen and then having to reflect it in the paper's pages."
The winners will receive their awards at a ceremony on May 29.