Distressed by what he saw happening to Latin American journalism, Gabriel García Márquez, the Nobel laureate author of One Hundred Years of Solitude and a former newspaper reporter himself, started in March 1995 what he describes as “a school without walls”—the Foundation for a New Ibero-American Journalism. Its purpose is to rejuvenate, through traveling workshops, journalism in the region. He insists that what is being taught and practiced needs urgent renovation and complains that today’s journalists are more interested in chasing after breaking news and in the perks and privileges of a press pass than they are in creativity and ethics. They pride themselves on being able to read a secret document upside down, he says, but their work is full of grammatical and spelling mistakes and it lacks depth. “They are not moved by the basis that the best story is not the one that is filed first but the one that is told best,” he wrote in his inaugural remarks.
García Márquez is critical of the way universities and newspaper publishers in Latin America are treating the profession—which he considers the best job in the world. Disagreeing with the professional schools’ stance that journalists are not artists, García Márquez considers that print journalism is “a literary form.” He would also like to convince newspapers to invest less in technology and more in training personnel.
With the support of UNESCO, García Márquez’s foundation, based in Barranquilla, Colombia, has organized, in less than two years, twenty-eight workshops attended by three-hundred-and-twenty journalists from eleven countries. The themes of the workshops have ranged from teaching the narrative techniques of reportage in print, radio and television, to discussions of ethics, freedom of the press, reporting under dangerous circumstances and the challenges of new technology for the profession. The workshops are taught by established professionals and are intended for the younger generation of journalists, preferably under thirty, who have at least three years of experience. Although based in Colombia, the workshops have also been conducted in Ecuador, Venezuela, Mexico and Spain. The centerpiece of the foundation’s curriculum is the three-day workshop taught by García Márquez on reportage.
As a freelance journalist who has been writing about Latin America in English, I applied and was accepted for his fifth workshop. I was so excited to meet him that I, who am late for everything, was the first to arrive at the Spanish Cultural Center in Cartagena, a beautifully renovated two-story house with red begonias and a fountain in the courtyard, owned by the Spanish government. The setting could not be more appropriate. Cartagena is home to García Márquez, and many of the characters from his fiction walked the narrow cobblestones of the city’s colonial center. A few blocks awav from the Cultural Center, at the Cathedral’s Square, Florentino Ariza noticed Fermina Daza’s walk was no longer that of a schoolgirl. Sierva María de Todos los Angeles, the twelve-year-old girl whose hair continued to grow long after she died, lived in the Convent of Santa Clara nearby. Adjacent to the walls that kept Cartagena safe from English pirates, García Márquez’s house here is so close to the convent—now a five-star hotel —that guests have an unimpeded view right into the author’s home. “It was embarrassing,” one guest at the hotel told me. “I could see him having breakfast every morning. Finally, I closed the curtains.”