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Participatory Journalism

 

(This article is Part II of journalist Ridenour’s political autobiography, Solidarity and Resistance: 50 Years With Che. Click here for Part I)
 

Wilfred Burchett was a key source of information for many of us who wanted to understand what the United States was doing against Southeast Asians. Burchett was an intrepid reporter for decades. He was the first correspondent to enter Hiroshima after the nuclear bombing and brought the world the military-censored news of its horrors.

Burchett’s journalist code influenced my journalism:

“It is not a bad thing to become a journalist because you have something to say and are burning to say it. There is no substitute for looking into things on the spot, especially if you are going to write on burning international issues of the day. Make every possible effort to get the facts across to at least some section of the public. Do not be tied to a news organization in which you would be required to write against your own conscience and knowledge.”

I later met Burchett. We spoke of doing some writing about Cuba but we never got around to it.

I had begun working as a reporter in 1967. The written word for me is a tool I wield for our liberation from exploitation and oppression. My first reporting was for the Communist Party’s California weekly, People’s World. My last articles for that publication were first-hand accounts from Prague just after the Soviet invasion. They were not published however--a decision taken by top party leaders over the editor’s objection--and I ceased writing for the People’s World.
Che was with me in more ways than I knew at the time. His image and revolutionary thoughts were often present at demonstrations in which I participated, especially anti-imperialist actions. But what I did not know, until I worked in Cuba in 1988, was that he had a flare for writing journalistically.

On June 14, 1988, Cuba’s Journalist Union published Che Periodista (Journalist Che) commemorating his 60th date of birth. It is a collection of chronicles, battle accounts, critiques of imperialism, ideological think pieces, and an homage to Camilo Cienfuegos, a close comrade killed in an airplane accident after the revolutionary victory.

Che’s reportage originally appeared in Verde Olivo (Olive Green), the Cuban revolutionary army magazine, written between October 1959 and April 1961. I found Che’s writings concise, freshly formulated in a crisp style.

After my Czechoslovakia report was ideologically censored by the Communist Party, I sought employment in the mass media, or mainstream media (MSM). My first job was as sports editor in central California at the Hanford Sentinel (1969-70). Not knowing anything about sports writing, I learned on the job. Then, I moved up to general reporting and features. I was soon fired, because I wrote about a taboo subject: racist covenants in housing.

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