Journalists share how media can effect change
A journalist in Spain and an activist from Philadelphia convened in the Archibald Stevens Alexander Library on the College Avenue campus yesterday to tell Rutgers students how to effect change.
The symposium, “From Indignation to Occupation: A New Wave of Global Mobilization,” was organized by the Department of Journalism and Media Studies, said Todd Wolfson, the event’s organizer.
“The primary goal was twofold,” said Wolfson, a professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies. “One, to educate people about … some of these critical questions about media, journalism and social change, and have people really imagine the ways they could get involved.”
The first of the two speakers featured was Jennifer Baljko, a Rutgers alumna who graduated with a degree in Journalism and Media Studies in 1993. She joined the group via Skype from Barcelona, Spain, where she has done investigative reporting on Spain’s soaring youth unemployment rate.
Baljko was one of three contributors to the “51% Project,” an effort she and two other journalists led using multiple media to chronicle the unrest in Barcelona.
She has 20 years of experience with reporting, writing and editing and focuses her work on social causes.
“We call it covering a lost generation because that’s what it felt like for us,” she said. “At the beginning of 2012, when we started the project, there was this absolute sense of urgency about this.”
When she and her two colleagues endeavored to document the economic condition of Spanish youth, 25 percent of all Spaniards were unemployed, Baljko said. During the height of the Great Depression in the United States, the unemployment rate peaked at the same level.
More alarmingly, 51 percent of all Spanish youth were without jobs, she said. The figure now stands at 56 percent.
“These aren’t kids who didn’t go to college,” Baljko said. “These are kids with two degrees on their way to [a] master’s, speaking three or four languages.”
Because of the magnitude of the problem and its socioeconomic ripple effect, she and her partners wanted to tell the story in various forms.
“When you have that many unemployed people, what does that do to a country?” she said. “What does that do to a culture? Spain’s the fourth largest economy in Europe. We knew that if Spain fell apart, then Europe would fall apart. We knew this was going to be a global story.”
Baljko knew that she needed to collect a multitude of voices to document the plight of young people in Spain. She also had to figure out some way of keeping people in America and other nations engaged in a story from which they were physically removed.
Mainstream media outlets either rejected the story or did not allow her group sufficient freedom to express themselves in different formats. So-called “new media” organizations did not possess the resources to finance the project.
Baljko knew she was pursuing an extremely relevant story. Yet she needed to consider whether documenting the cause was a good business decision.
“You’ve got to be smart,” she said. “You’ve got to be savvy. You’ve got to convince people this is some hot new thing they want to be a part of.”
Bryan Mercer, co-director of the Media Mobilizing Project, focuses on bringing together people within and between social movements in Pennsylvania. When people decide they want to be part of a cause, his organization documents their efforts so they can connect with other activist groups.
“Movements begin with the telling of untold stories,” said Wolfson, who co-founded MMP with Mercer.
When Mercer graduated, he returned to his native Philadelphia to pursue a career as an activist and community organizer. To him, the media molds the outcomes of people’s struggles.
“The media can shape what’s being thought,” Mercer said. “Even just a simple change — deciding not to call people illegal immigrants, but call them undocumented immigrants — changes the term and the nature of the debate.”
MMP aims to document and tell the raw stories of individuals who are spearheading various causes, whether in the city of Philadelphia, the state of Pennsylvania or the rest of United States.
By allowing organizations and activists to make their own media, Mercer said they could connect with distant supporters of their cause or of similar causes. Such relationships are mutually beneficial and help to foster camaraderie.
MMP has been involved with protesting sweeping cuts to public education in Philadelphia, assisting students with organizing and promoting their cause.
Despite his commitment to communal activism, Mercer stressed the importance of occasionally reflecting and withdrawing from the front lines.
“These fights are hard,” he said. “We see people get beaten down by the struggles that they’re facing. And because of that, it’s important to take a moment to step back and celebrate.”