by Erich Barganier ’10
On a hot June day in 2015, Kara Andrade ’95 sat beside Mexican political activist Miguel Ángel Jiménez Blanco in a beaten-up sedan, discussing elections, citizen apathy and the disappearances of student activists in Guerrero, Mexico.
Jiménez, a community organizer for a community self-defense group called the Union of Peoples and Organizations of Guerrero State, was found murdered outside the entrance to his hometown a few weeks after Andrade’s ride-along.
Andrade’s interview with Jiménez and the resulting print, video and radio pieces brought attention to the risks that Mexican citizens take in order to denounce corruption and demand transparency of the Mexican government.
“People take risks because they believe in something, having a voice and having a say,” said Andrade, a 1999 graduate of New College.
Andrade’s reporting, supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting, won her first prize in in-depth reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists’ Mark of Excellence Regional Award.
Andrade’s commitment to journalism as a channel for telling the stories of the unseen stems from her own story.
She was born in Guatemala in a small town called Bananera, a labor town for the United Fruit Company. She emigrated at the age of six, was smuggled into America by her mother and grew up undocumented most of her life.
After graduating from New College, Andrade received her master’s degree in Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley and worked with numerous international media outlets and organizations, including Al Jazeera, Americas Quarterly, Associated Press, Christian Science Monitor, France 24, Global Post, The Huffington Post, The New York Times and others.
She consults as a technology trainer for the U.S. State Department, as well as for the U.S. Institute of Peace, a federal non-partisan organization that provides analysis of conflicts throughout the world. Andrade has presented in 15 countries at conferences and continues to seek ways to use journalism as a method to develop critical thinking skills and civic engagement in emerging democracies.
A Fulbright fellowship in 2009 enabled her to launch a mobile-based citizen journalism network that consisted of volunteers from more than five countries. She co-founded HablaCentro, a Central American news sharing platform focused on first-hand ground reporting.
Andrade has trained thousands on the use of journalism skills and open-source technologies to reach larger audiences and create social change. In 2011, she received a fellowship from Ashoka, a global organization that identifies and invests in social entrepreneurs working to solve social problems.
New College was vital to Andrade’s development as a reporter and writer. “Once I got to New College, I understood the importance of creating your own independent projects and making them have some relevance to what you want to do with your life,” she said. She carried this attitude forward as she pursued her major in Literature under the guidance of Professors Glenn Cuomo, Robert Knox and Arthur Miller.
“It was that really analytical connection with an advisor to guide you,” Andrade said. “It is a real integral way of holding yourself accountable.” She brought this mindset with her to American University, where she is currently studying Communications with an emphasis on Media, Technology and Social Change. Her dissertation focuses on new models of online investigative reporting in Latin America – models that serve a “watchdog” function and help to increase transparency and accountability in governments.
“When I look at stories, I look at what’s being covered and what’s not being covered,” she said. She uses her reporting to inform her academic research and to ensure her research is relevant, timely and useful to a larger community. This attitude spurs her enthusiasm for future projects. She is currently considering writing a piece about the justice process and role of the business sector in Guatemala and an article about how small communities in Guatemala transformed since their founding.
Following Blanco’s murder, Andrade began planning a follow-up story covering the investigation of his murder and further disappearance in Mexico. She also wants to explore how citizen reporting is emerging in Latin America based on cell phone usage.
Despite shifting global politics and an ever-changing world, Andrade looks inward for direction. “I think we’re obsessed with knowing what the next step is. You have to have a vision of yourself to project yourself forward. You don’t always need to know exactly what the next step will be.”