The Journalist in an Open Pit Mine

By Quijandría, Gonzalo | ReVista (Cambridge), Winter 2014 | Go to article overview

The Journalist in an Open Pit Mine


Quijandría, Gonzalo, ReVista (Cambridge)


SOME ACQUAINTANCES ASKED ME A FEW DAYS ago if I missed journalism. Without hesitation, I answered yes: journalism had provided me with the tremendous privilege and opportunities for my work to be heard, seen or read, and this can turn into an addiction that is hard to break.

I leftjournalism 12 years ago when I decided to accept a job in the communications department of an international mining company, resigning from a position as editor of a business and economics magazine.

My first job had been at a television broadcasting station in Lima. Over a period of five years, I worked as a reporter, an interviewer and finally as anchorman for "Contrapunto," a Sunday television show specializing in investigative reporting. Not only did the program achieve high national viewer ratings, it also became the standard for investigative journalism in Peru during Alberto Fujimori's administration.

As a result of investigative reports broadcast on "Contrapunto" that included stories about alleged human rights violations and cases of corruption in the armed forces, as well as wiretapping, the Fujimori government in 1997 revoked the citizenship status of Israeli-born Baruch Ivcher, the owner of the television station I worked at. Ivcher had become a naturalized citizen of Peru several years earlier. This move by Fujimori's government, designed by the president's advisor, Vladimiro Montesinos, led to the company's minority shareholders taking control of the television station. I resigned in protest.

The following year, in 1998, I was accepted into Harvard University's Nieman Foundation program for journalists, which enabled me to pursue studies for one year and interact with some of the best journalists of my generation from 11 countries. At the end of my year as a Nieman Fellow, I returned to Peru accepting a job as editor of a business and economics magazine, a job I held for two years.

At this point in time, at the beginning of this century, then-Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo appointed my father, Alvaro Quijandría, as his Minister of Agriculture. At first, this appointment had no bearing on my job since the topics I had been working on were related to business and economics. But little by little I began to miss investigative reporting, particularly in the area of politics. I fully understood that my work might be the subject of criticism given my close family ties to the government, in the event I were to resume a career in political journalism. At that point, I went through a late vocational crisis. I thought that economic journalism would never succeed in filling the space leftby political reporting. I began thinking about completely abandoning a career in journalism and reinventing myself in some related career. Within this context a job offer from the mining company appeared.

CompañÎa Minera Antamina, a joint venture among Canadian, Australian and Japanese companies which became the largest mining project ever developed in Peru, offered me a job. Leaving journalism behind to accept a position at a mining company was not a decision made in haste. I'd been thinking about such an idea for a while-not the idea of working in the mining industry, about which I knew little despite my business editor job-but rather the decision of leaving journalism.

When I had been working as a journalist, I had reached the conclusion at one point that mining was not a good option for my country. The novels from the 1970s, which portrayed Peruvian miners as being heartlessly exploited, only reinforced that point of view. The novels were similar in tone to the description that film director James Cameron would make of miners of the future in his film Avatar. So when the offer came for a job in a mining company, I had conversation after conversation with friends who had some connection to the field and with others who were very critical of the role of mining in Peru.

I remembered how in one of the classes I took during my Nieman year at the Kennedy School of Government, a debate arose on a topic that seemed particularly surrealistic to me: "Is development good for humanity? …

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