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Paraguayan journalist wins first Bajo la Lupa investigative reporting grant; Mexican journalist named runner-up

Paraguayan journalist wins first Bajo la Lupa investigative reporting grant; Mexican journalist named runner-up

Aldo Benitez
Aldo Benitez
Laura Sanchez Ley
Laura Sanchez Ley

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 Gutierrez Valdizan

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.

South American team awarded InquireFirst reporting grant for environmental project

South American team awarded InquireFirst reporting grant for environmental project

Eduardo Franco Berton
Eduardo Franco Berton
Gustavo Faleiros
Gustavo Faleiros

InquireFirst is pleased to announce that a team of South American journalists has been awarded our third reporting grant for a regional environmental project which they will produce as part of our 2020 initiative to encourage cross-border reporting on science, health and the environment by Latin American journalists.

A partnership with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Department of Science Education, our Historias Sin Fronteras project was launched in February and will award four grants this year to teams of Latin American journalists for cross-border reporting projects.

The South American team is comprised of two journalists – Gustavo Faleiros, founder of InfoAmazonia in Brazil, and Eduardo Franco Berton, founder of Red Ambiental de Información (RAI) in Bolivia.

Faleiros specializes in data-driven reporting. In 2012, he launched InfoAmazonia, a digital map that uses satellite and other publicly available data to monitor the Amazon rain forest. He helped create the Amazon Communications Network, which trained journalists and produced 200 stories about environmental issues in the region. He was twice selected as a Knight International Journalism Fellow for his work to promote data literacy and geojournalism.

Faleiros began his career at Valor Economico, Brazil’s largest financial newspaper, and has also worked at the Brazilian environmental news site O Eco. He has also written for publications such as Scientific AmericanThe Guardian and Folha de S. Paulo. Faleiros earned his master’s degree in environment, politics and globalization from King’s College London and a degree in journalism from the Catholic University of Sao Paulo.

Franco Berton is an environmental journalist and nature photographer with 10 years of experience. He began his career as a lawyer, specializing in environmental law for conservation organizations. In 2016, he founded RAI, a news platform on environment, conservation and environmental sciences with the mission of giving voice to biodiversity and vulnerable groups in Bolivia and Latin America.

He has focused on investigating wildlife trafficking, environmental crimes and overexploitation of natural resources in Latin America. In November 2019, he received an honorable mention in the Latin American Prize for Investigative Journalism COLPIN 2019, for his investigative work titled “A Trip to the Jaguar’s Black Market.” This year, he will be recognized with an honorable mention in investigative reporting during the Society of Environmental Journalists 2020 Award for his story published in National Geographic, titled “Poaching Threatens South America’s Only Bear Species.”

In response to our call for proposals, Historias Sin Fronteras received numerous project proposals focused on water and/or ocean conservation. Our international panel of judges said that each of the proposals demonstrated the experience and creativity of the Latin American journalists who participated. 

The judges singled out the proposal by the South American team, calling it “an exciting exploration” of the multi-faceted and complex issue of large-scale water projects and the danger they present to the environment.

“Supported by infographics and other multimedia elements, we look forward to seeing how this story comes together,” the judges said.

The project will be published in November.

Iván Carrillo, editor-in-chief of Tec Review magazine in Mexico and co-founder of Historias Sin Fronteras, will serve as project editor.  Carrillo is part of the 2016-2017 generation of the Knight Science Journalism Fellowship at MIT. He is a contributor to National Geographic and the Latin American editions of Newsweek and has collaborated with the Discovery Channel and CNN en Español.

InquireFirst will be issuing an additional call for proposals later this year. In October, the editorial focus will be on nutrition, biotechnology and/or food production.

By launching this regional initiative, InquireFirst and HHMI’s Department of Science Education aim to convene, inspire and encourage the work of science writers in Latin America. Across Latin America, science journalism plays a vital role in providing rigorous and current information to increasingly diverse audiences. Through our support of collaborative projects, we hope to strengthen the network of experienced Latin American science writers by providing them with reporting resources and new outlets where they can publish their outstanding work.  


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