Ruda: Journalism in the Time of COVID-19
By: Olga Valeria Espinoza, FCAM Communications Officer.
Journalism in the time of COVID-19 is challenging. While much of the media has moved towards remote work, getting out into the field is still essential. This means exposure to the virus, needing to have adequate protective equipment, masks, suits, gloves, hats, etc. Not to mention the barriers to accessing information, social distancing, psychological burdens, and fear of catching or spreading the virus to those close to you.
Ruda is a digital magazine that was born as a project of the Guatemalan news agency Community Press (Prensa Comunitaria). The idea arose in 2017 between meetings within the agency’s editorial board about the need for a digital space that would highlight and increase the visibility of women’s struggles. At the beginning of 2019, a group of women colleagues began searching for funding, and reached out to other women to join the project. The magazine was launched in early 2020.
FCAM spoke with the members of Ruda, who told us about how they have lived through the pandemic, about the alliances and strategies that they have created, and about what keeps them going in the face of such a complex local and global scenario.
“We started off the year with so much energy, and all of a sudden this happens. We began to question, ‘what do we do now?’ This is when we approached FCAM and requested your support. Our workload has tripled in these months, there are only a few of us, and COVID-19 came and changed our initial project. We began to question the perspective we should take, and how we should approach these issues. We were really scared that we would not be sustainable, because we also cover issues related to health and local territories, and that comprises the body as well,” shares Celeste Mayorga, coordinator of Ruda.
Over the course of nearly a year, the team built alliances both locally and in other countries to construct the political, narrative and journalistic proposal of what Ruda would seek to be and do. One of the primary components of their project is the Self-Care and Protection for Journalists Program, which is especially important in the context of the COVID-19 crisis.
“In December 2019 we gathered for an assembly to determine how, from a journalistic standpoint, we would treat issues of harassment and violence against women, and how through concrete actions we would approach and eradicate this problem, because we are also now in the moment of “Not one less” (‘Ni una menos,’ a movement against femicide) and “I believe you” (‘Yo sí te creo,’ a movement against harassment, a counterpart to the “Me too” movement in Latin America). When this situation arose, we had to shift the Self-Care and Protection program, and include concerns that we had not taken into account earlier, like our physical health and what would happen if one of us became sick with COVID-19,” explains Quimy de León, Ruda’s lead editor and photographer.
“We Will Learn to Live”
For the colleagues of Ruda, it was important to first learn to understand the pandemic and what COVID-19 meant, but there was not much time to sit and talk about it. They learned as they went how the media had to act quickly, and took on the challenge of learning, changing language and even modifying areas of work. “We had to accelerate exercising our right to inform and to be informed in accordance with how the situation evolved. We even had to change the sources we work with. We never thought we would be working with public health officials, from doctors, to nurses, patients, and those seeking healthcare services. We did ‘express’ journalism, which is a challenge that elevates the work but also elevates the stress,” shares Quimy.
Given the heavy workload and high level of stress, some members of Ruda became sick. This led them to rethink how to distribute the work across an already small team. Given that the editorial focus of Ruda is two-fold, including both journalism and reflection, they came up with the idea of inviting women to share their writing about their personal and intimate analysis of the situation. This is how the “We Will Learn to Live” campaign was born.
Celeste Mayorga tells us that the campaign has been well-received by the women that were invited to participate, and by others that have come forward to share their reflections. “It has been well received and we continue receiving contributions from other women, and not only in text. This is how we realized that we are ready to do feminist journalism, in this context and along the way we have been creating our own model of feminist journalism,” highlights the coordinator of Ruda.
One reflection among the colleagues of Ruda when they created the “We Will Learn to Live” campaign focuses on the ways in which remote working from home would be more difficult for women, given the added burden of attending to the needs of their homes and children, and that many women would experience an increase in violence by having to spend more time with their aggressors.
“We first began to write letters inviting other women to write as well, we explained the campaign and encouraged them to add their voices so as to give voice to the women that cannot access these spaces. Many women that we did not know previously have written to us, and tell us that they have seen the magazine on social media and they want to incorporate their writing, sharing about their lives during this crisis,” tells Quimy.
Ruda member Jovanna García notes that having a designer to illustrate the texts that they have received as been important, because they did not just want to show how women were experiencing the crisis, but also that there was a transformative energy to everything that that are doing. “The name comes out of the fact that we are learning to live with this, but that does not have to be a negative message. Our goal is to bring healing as a political proposal, and not just stay in the realm of re-victimization or pain, but show how women – in the midst of violence and crisis – continue transforming that energy and that struggle.
We want to increase the visibility of these struggles, but also look at their demands and transform them through healing action. Marco, the designer that is working with us, has made us rethink and realize that we can build other things together with members of the queer community.”
In the past month, the organization has also created the “Rudas Initiatives” campaign, through which it hopes to show how organized women are facing the pandemic and how they are building alliances to support one another. “Our idea in developing this campaign was to move away from always presenting women as victims, but rather as people that are fighting every day. We want to present the projects that have emerged in different areas of the country, because there are many women throughout Guatemala that are taking initiative where the government is not, and they are assuming responsibility to organize support in diverse communities. We have encountered incredibly moving cases in which women had ideas about what they could do and started doing it, because no one else is going to come and do it for them,” shares Jovanna.
Physical, Emotional and Digital Self-Care in Times of COVID-19
We asked the organization if healing is critical for sustaining the struggle. They all agreed that it is, and that it is inevitable for them in this context in which they have found themselves to bring sustaining their health into the conversation.
“Yes, healing is completely necessary. Ruda was born out of an experience of rebuilding for each of us. Quimy and I met in the morgue of the Hogar Segura in 2017¹, and at that time we were among the few women in Guatemala accompanying the families of the girls in the Hogar Segura. Ruda came about during a crisis and now we are in a crisis. We have looked for ways to sustainably stay together in a constant process of therapeutic accompaniment. Healing is critical for us to understand our histories and to increase the visibility of the struggles of others,” tells Celeste Mayora, coordinator of Ruda.
The context became overwhelming at one point in the year and the Ruda colleagues fell ill with different health complications, things that they had never experienced before. “All of a sudden, we were having issues that originated as a psychosomatic response to stress. We were not only consuming all of the information out there about the pandemic, we also breaking it down and processing it. All of the numbers and the data were incredibly hard on our psyches and resulted in us getting sick. We are now starting to find mental and emotional balance. That would not have been possible if we did not already have the Self-Care and Protection program, and if we had not had timely support, in this case from FCAM. Despite all of this, we are stronger,” adds Quimy de León.
One fundamental characteristic of the right to health is the right to access timely and accurate information. Journalists covering the news about COVID-19 face censorship and even criminal punishment. Governments throughout the world have denied or limited access to public information, and the team at Ruda has not been exempt from this. “We have experienced at least seven incidents of insecurity, ranging from threats, censorship, intimidation and limited access to public information. In the midst of all of this, we went to file an amicus curiae brief before the Constitutional Court, we received legal support from the International Commission of Jurists to back an action by the Attorney General against Congress because they would not allow us to access information. This was not an isolated act – the Executive branch tried to limit access to information and to date the information that is being released about the pandemic is slanted and limited. The work of journalists is more adverse than ever, we have been debating about this in journalistic circles throughout Latin America and concluded that conditions for journalists right now are similar to war zone journalism, at that level – not just the hostility, but also the emotional conditions of the work itself,” shares Quimy.
For Ruda, support from FCAM has been fundamental to maintaining a preventive health perspective, committing to self-care while taking concrete actions ranging from getting masks to working on psychosocial issues.
The Key is Working Together
In a context that on occasion can become hopeless, members of Ruda are confident that sisterhood is one of the fundamental pieces needed to continue moving forward. In their words, we share what gives them strength:
“Women should know they are not alone and we are supporting each other. I think that is important, because women have not only been abandoned by the State, but many by their families as well.” – Marta Fuentes, Ruda social media officer.
“We are a new, emerging magazine, but like with any other initiative, organizing and working collectively is what gives us strength. We have supported one another a lot, and the key to our strength continues to be working together. We are all passionate about what we do, and we find strength in the written word, in journalism, in images, in testimonies and social sciences. Fortunately, we can do what we like to do, and dedicate ourselves to what we like while providing a service, contributing to reflection and awareness raising among society, and I think those are the things that nurture us.” – Quimy de León, Ruda lead editor.
“What keeps us going is that each of us has a personal reason for doing what we do. Ruda is a space for anyone that wants to make an issue more visible, who wants to share her writing, her images, it is a space for all kinds of women: white, blond and above all indigenous women that work and struggle so much in their territories. What we do in Ruda is community, village, neighborhood, social consciousness and what we do is also a part of the contexts from which we come, we come from social movements. Ruda is an offering to all that women have healed, and to all that women have had.” – Celeste Mayorga, Ruda coordinator.
“Personally, having come into this project gave me strength. I think I have found a voice through Ruda in these moments and I have committed to learning about other contexts. While it is true that the pandemic affects all of us, it does not affect all of us equally. There are many women from all over that are courageously facing the pandemic, and that gives us strength to give voice to their courage, and commit ourselves to keep seeking out stories. COVID-19 is not the only thing happening, there are other crises and we have to make space for them.” – Jovanna García, Ruda member.
Ruda invites all women to send their writing, images or any kind of content that helps make their struggles visible on digital platforms.
¹On March 8, 2017, a fire at the Hogar Segura orphanage in San José Pinula, Guatemala killed 41 girls between the ages of 14 and 17.