A Global City Needs a Worldview
The first time I met Jerome McDonnell, host of Worldview, WBEZ’s international affairs program, was in 1999. It was one year after I founded the Chiapas Media Project (CMP).
Our award-winning bi-national organization was providing video equipment and training to the indigenous Zapatista communities in Mexico’s Chiapas state.
In the 1990s the Zapatistas galvanized worldwide attention announcing their uprising via the internet, focusing attention on the plight of indigenous people in Mexico. CMP was part of the global response to their call for international solidarity and support.
At the time, I was living between Chiapas and Chicago, trying to figure out how to generate media interest in our work. I found one Chicago outlet that took an interest in our story: Worldview.
With me in that first interview was Paco Vazquez, a 25-year-old photographer from Milpa Alta, an indigenous Nahua community on the outskirts of Mexico City. Paco helped me start CMP.
Talking recently, Paco and I recalled how comfortable we felt: We had been nervous about our very first radio interview. But Jerome knew what to ask and how to ask it.
I say this because there is an art to good radio, now having been interviewed by many different people. The interviewer needs to know the subject matter well but more importantly, they need to be sensitive to who they are interviewing.
They must pay attention to where the individual is coming from and be willing to have a conversation, not a confrontation.
Jerome made us feel like he was truly invested in what we had to say, and that is a gift.
In 2011 we had a booth at the Global Activism Expo. Jerome interviewed me and bought several DVDs of short documentaries by TV Serrana, a Cuban community media organization based in the Sierra Maestra Mountains.
That year, I started working with filmmakers in Cuba through the newly founded Americas Media Initiative.
The U.S. tour I organized for TV Serrana included a stop at Worldview for me and the organization’s Carlos Rodriguez. Jerome had watched their films and facilitated a great conversation about Cuba, filmmaking and community media.
This year I have been on Worldview four times with Cuban guests who are part of the year-long film series, Cuban Visions at the Athenaeum Theatre in Chicago.
Topics the series covers include LGBTQ rights, inequity and class, and the Cuban economy— all complicated and sensitive subjects for Cubans who live in Cuba. Jerome handled all of these interviews with ease, making everyone feel comfortable. His questions aimed to expand the audience’s understanding and helped us get many more people to the screenings.
In June, I heard WBEZ was cancelling Worldview at the beginning of October and my heart broke.
As someone who has worked internationally for over 20 years I know the importance of Worldview, a program that does in-depth exploration of subjects that get very little coverage anywhere in the U.S.
I recently moved back to Chicago after living out of state for a number of years. Since my return I’ve heard a lot of language framing Chicago as a “global city.”
Our recent experience with Cuban Visions provides a good litmus test of how little interest traditional Chicago media has in covering international affairs even in their own backyard. Worldview is the exception.
Canceling Worldview would be a true loss to our city and I hope WBEZ will reconsider. Chicagoans rely on Worldview to engage with each other and with the world, and that is what a truly global city needs.Alexandra Halkin, Guggenheim and Fulbright Fellow, Founder of the Chiapas Media Project and currently Director of Americas Media Initiative.