One of the very best things about the craft of journalism is the fact that it can grant access to all kinds of exotic locations, interesting people and unusual experiences.
In that regard, the chance to travel to the Amazonas Oriente region of Ecuador and to spend time at the Tiputini Biodiversity Station represents something of a Triple Crown of journalism projects.
What eventually turned into The Tiputini Project was hatched (at least in my mind) three years ago, during a casual conversation over lunch in the Ecuadorean capital with the station's founder and director, Kelly Swing, a professor of tropical ecology at Universidad San Francisco de Quito.
I casually (or deviously) suggested that it might make for an interesting project if we were to turn a group of journalism students loose on the research station to take pictures, interview people, and generally tell the story of Tiputini.
Earlier that week, I had heard Swing speak about Tiputini and the wealth of species of flora and fauna that lived there – and about the ring of oil exploration that appeared to be closing in on the place.
It was a compelling presentation, to say the least. Despite his easy-going style and relaxed North Carolina drawl, Swing's passion for Tiputini, and nature in general, was palpable ... and contagious.
Over the next few years, there were a couple of false starts in the direction of making the project happen. It seemed that every time we began to plan an expedition, something got in the way. Then, finally, this year, the people and the funding came together.
Nine of us – seven students and two teachers – were able to get to Quito and Tiputini, and spend a little less than two weeks, including four days in the rainforest, gathering material.
The initial plan was to assemble a series of articles looking at the various facets of the Tiputini story, with a vague idea that oil might be a prevailing theme, but I'm not sure any of us expected it to be the prevailing theme. Sometimes, in reading over the stories, one gets the impression that we may be among the last to have the privilege of visiting this wilderness ... while it still is a wilderness.
As I said, Swing's passion for the rainforest is contagious, and our students were more than susceptible to contracting the condition. Yet I can honestly say that they never veered into advocacy or lost sight of the need for balance.
Neither did they let "balance" become an excuse to practise stenography in place of journalism. Real objectivity involves presenting the evidence, and allowing a conclusion to form out of that evidence. In the end, I think that's what our people accomplished.
And we couldn't have pulled it off without Swing. His generosity was breath-taking. He sat for three interviews and set up many more. And he did everything he could to expedite and facilitate the work. We owe him one very large thank-you for all he did to make the project possible.
Finally, if our students'
work leaves a reader with the impression that the Amazon is a world treasure desperately in need of saving, that's probably because it is. And it seems reasonable to conclude that no amount of oil can possibly equal its value.
–Brian Gorman, Associate Professor, Communication Studies