Paraguayan journalist wins first Bajo la Lupa investigative reporting grant; Mexican journalist named runner-up
InquireFirst is excited to announce that Paraguayan journalist Aldo Benitez has been awarded our first investigative reporting grant for an environmental project which he will produce as part of our Bajo la Lupa initiative to support investigative journalism by Latin American journalists.
Our international panel of judges also selected a project proposed by Mexican investigative journalist Laura Sanchez Ley as the runner-up in this first call for proposals.
The judges said both proposals “address matters of great public interest, which in one way or another directly impact people’s lives.”
“They are clear research projects, with specific and relevant complaints, from which it can be inferred that the justice system has fallen short in the countries where the stories take place,” the judges wrote. “The informative value of the investigations, their possible transnational impact and the environment in which they take place make it necessary to provide all the support and collaboration possible to help these projects come to fruition.”
Both Benitez and Sanchez Ley will receive reporting grants under the Bajo la Lupa iniciative. Their projects will be published in early 2021.
Benitez, who is the deputy Sunday editor at La Nacion in Paraguay, was hooked on journalism at the age of 19 when he attended a weekly “Young Journalists” program at the prestigious national newspaper in Asuncion, ABC Color. He worked at ABC Color for more than a decade, covering the economy and sports. But he said his real interest lay in covering “the rivers, the forests, what was happening with the environment.”
Since joining La Nacion in 2016, he has focused on investigative reporting and more recently has found ways to merge investigative and environmental reporting. For the past two years he has collaborated with Mongabay LatAm, an online new site focused on conversation and the environment.
Sanchez Ley is a reporter and editor based in Mexico City whose work focuses on government accountability, public policies and access to information. She has 16 years of experience writing and reporting across a variety of platforms, including print, television and online media.
Sanchez Ley was formerly based in the Tijuana – San Diego border region, covering crime, corruption and binational affairs such as immigration, justice, and cross-border policies. Her Bajo la Lupa project focuses on one of the least accountable and most opaque agencies in the Mexican government.
In response to the call for proposals, Bajo la Lupa received numerous investigative project ideas from journalists in Mexico, Guatemala and South America. The panel of judges said that each of the proposals demonstrated the experience and knowledge of the Latin American journalists who participated.
The judges singled out Benitez’s proposal, saying it “has great narrative potential, as well as the possibility to expose environmental damage that has been going on for far too long with impunity.”
“These qualities made this project the winner,” the judges said.
Of Sanchez Ley’s proposal, the judges said her “powerful initial reporting based out of Mexico led us to consider the project for the support of InquireFirst as well.”
Alejandra Gutiérrez Valdizán, a prominent reporter and editor with experience in written, audiovisual and digital journalism, will serve as project editor. She has focused her career on in-depth and narrative journalism, specializing in issues of human rights, transitional justice, the environment, and security and violence.
Her work, individually or as a team, has been a finalist for the Daniel Pearl Awards (2013), the Gabriel García Márquez Prize of the FNPI (2014), and the Inter-American Press Society (2013/2014). She has been a university professor, teaching investigative journalism courses and instructing workshops and trainings on communication, journalism and editorial and digital media management.
In December 2017, she co-founded Agencia Ocote in Guatemala, where she is the director. At Agencia Ocote she designs, coordinates and edits the journalistic projects of Agencia Ocote and manages the communication, investigation and editorial services of the Servicios Ocote company.
Bajo la Lupa is funded by Anthony S. Da Vigo, a California attorney who has successfully argued immigration cases of Latin American asylum seekers. Most recently, he funded the completion of a water project in Nicaragua, providing well water distribution to a church, a school and 65 homes.
This new initiative, launched in June 2020, supports in-depth and original reporting by Latin American journalists to expose corruption and abuses of power. The objective of Bajo la Lupa is to encourage investigative journalism that reveals hidden actions by the powerful that affect the citizens of Latin America with the goal of promoting transparency and rule of law.
InquireFirst launches science podcast for Mexico’s rural communities
Mexico’s indigenous people form a multicultural mosaic of diverse ethnic identities, ancestral knowledge and cultural values, but their communities and their unique stories have been overlooked by traditional media organizations and particularly by science, health and environment reporters.
As a result, Mexico’s indigenous people – an estimated 15.7 million in 68 communities across the country – do not have access to carefully curated and reported information that could help them combat inequality, disease, pollution and ecological damage caused by the misuse of natural resources. Nor do they have the opportunity to share their generations-old knowledge on issues such as wildlife protection, the impact of illegal logging and the role of medicinal plants in disease prevention.
We are pleased to announce that InquireFirst has forged an alliance with the Red de Radios Comunitarias de México, a radio network that reaches indigenous communities in 18 states in Mexico, to bring science-based news to the country’s rural and indigenous communities.
Iván Carrillo, a prominent science writer and editor, is the executive producer of the project. He is joined by an experienced production team based in Mexico. Our reporters are journalists working not only in Mexico’s major cities but they are also indigenous journalists working in rural communities across the country.
We’ll be launching our 15-episode podcast, En común: Conocimiento en Voz Viva, in August 2020.
Stay tuned for our first episode!
Eduardo Franco Berton, founder of Red Ambiental de Información in Bolivia, has been recognized with an Honorable Mention by the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) for his environmental investigation, “Poaching Threatens South America’s Only Bear Species,” which was published by National Geographic in 2019.
Eduardo was first introduced to National Geographic editors by a speaker he met during our InquireFirst Science Journalism Workshop in 2018. The SEJ judges, in recognizing Eduardo’s work, said, “The journalist traveled thousands of miles and worked undercover to talk with bear hunters, shamans and government officials who, because of inadequate budgets and understaffing, are virtually powerless to stop the killing of South America’s only bear species.”
Barbara Fraser, an environmental writer based in Lima, Peru, has recently been named climate editor at EarthBeat, a publication of U.S.-based National Catholic Reporter. Barbara credits her participation in InquireFirst’s February 2020 Environmental Investigative Journalism Workshop in Merida, Mexico with helping her plan the expansion of EarthBeat’s coverage to deepen the science and give it a more global perspective. She said, “The Merida workshop was a welcome dose of oxygen for me.”
Science and Health Symposium
This seminar will focus on urgent health issues in Latin America such as Covid-19, cancer and diabetes. Some 40 journalists from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru and Mexico will attend the high-level virtual seminar which will offer scientific and practical journalism sessions for science writers whose thorough, accurate coverage of health issues is vital to the well-being of people in their countries.
California State University Fullerton
Investigative Journalism and Government Accountability
Top U.S. journalists will join InquireFirst as speakers at this workshop, which will offer sessions on fact-checking, in-depth investigative reporting and cyber security.
The workshop will equip a team of Latin American journalists with investigative skills to produce deeply reported and carefully fact-checked investigative reports that lead to greater transparency in their countries. The workshop also built professional alliances that encourage journalists to conduct cross-border reporting on high-impact regional investigative stories.