Why is a fearless journalist pushing a broom?
By Cynthia Vukets
Luis Horacio Nájera recently won a major international journalism award.
He was one of two (make that five because the awards were given out to two groups of journalists) recipients of this year’s Canadian Journalists for Free Expression International Journalism Award.
The prize was handed out at a swanky $150-a-plate dinner at the Fairmont Royal York where members of the media drank free booze and rubbed elbows with their well-dressed colleagues. Nájera was recognized and applauded, but he is not part of the cohort.
He has been a practicing journalist for several decades. Just not for the past two years.
He’s been living in Vancouver for those two years, because he had to flee Mexico with his wife and three children in tow after receiving death threats from members of Mexican drug cartels.
His daring coverage of those cartels, and of President Felipe Calderon’s war on drugs, is why he won the CJFE award. It’s also why he’s currently working as a janitor. He came to Canada, applied for refugee status, had to find a job to survive, and hasn’t been able to get work as a reporter.
Surely, someone at that swanky media dinner – attended by most of the big wigs of Canadian media – could have offered Nájera a job. Arguably, it would have been a bit more valuable than the award he graciously accepted. (Disclaimer: I do hope to myself be hired by one or several of said bigwigs over the course of my career. So, no offense, all you editors and executive producers. I’m just pointing out an interesting aspect of Canadian work culture.)
It struck home a bit abrasively when the evening’s host, Anne-Marie Mediwake, told Nájera: “I hope soon you’ll be able to trade in that broom for a real Blackberry and a notebook. You’re in the right room for that.” She meant it compassionately, but it came off a little cringe-worthy.
Especially so when I asked Nájera the next day if anyone in that ballroom had offered him a job and he said “nothing formal.” Maybe people may have been too busy guarding their silent auction bids to actually speak with him.
I understand Mexico may have different journalistic policies/standards than we do. And Luis’ English might not be as good as a Canadian-trained journalist’s. But I’d wager the time it would take to bring him up to scratch on the way we do things here would be more than paid off by the value he could bring to a newsroom.
“In terms of hireability at this point, I think I’d be more useful writing about Mexico and the drug wars,” he told me.
More useful than writing about Canada, is what he meant. But I’d say, a sight more useful that a Canadian journalist writing about the drug wars.
So I urge one of you bigwigs out there to take a chance on this guy. Hire him. Get him some writing classes or English tutoring.
He may actually teach you more than he learns in your newsroom. Canada is multicultural. That means people from different countries live here. We are all better for it.
Time to step up to the plate, mainstream media. We like to talk about diversifying our newsrooms. Here’s a big chance.
Cynthia Vukets is a reporter in the Star's one year program. She has also worked in print and television in New Brunswick, Quebec, Kenya and Rwanda. She hopes to one day work in Mexico, but plans to steer clear of drug cartels.