Looking Back at Death Squads

March 25th, 2010 · No Comments · Uncategorized

By Denise Tessier

Thirty years ago, the Albuquerque Journal surprised not only its readers but members of its staff when it allowed one of its investigative reporters to travel to El Salvador to look into the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, who had been shot through the heart by a right-wing death squad as he was saying mass.

Former Albuquerque Journal reporter Craig Pyes posted a piece about his dangerous investigation Wednesday, the anniversary of Romero’s death, on the Nieman Watchdog Web site of Harvard University’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism.

The piece is not only a look back at that violent time in Salvadoran history, but reveals information about Pyes’ investigative reporting process, including details fellow reporters at the Journal probably didn’t even know.

He writes about the unusual partnership arrangement he formed with Laurie Beckland of the Los Angeles Times in doing the investigation, and the difficulty editors (as well as reporters) had in understanding it:

Laurie and I had agreed to take the time necessary to crack the story, and not publish it piecemeal. It was a journalistic choice, but also a matter of personal safety – to avoid alerting any of our dangerous sources of our intentions. We would each write our own independent stories, but we also agreed to share notes and get our editors to agree to a joint release date. . . .

Oddly, some of the most difficult parts of our reporting turned out to be not the dangers of El Salvador, but in dealing with our respective papers, neither of which was experienced in international investigative reporting.

Pyes’ colleagues at the Journal sometimes grumbled about his being able to spend months on the series without producing any stories. The Journal’s late editor, Gerald J. Crawford, to whom Pyes reported during his investigation, is quoted in the piece.

Pyes was nominated for a Pulitzer for the Salvadoran death squad stories– only the second time the Journal had nominated a series — and although he did not receive the prize then, he has won two Pulitzers since leaving the Journal. He was also one of the first Americans to report on the activities of Al Qaida before 9/11.

The Nieman story is worth a read, revealing an interesting part of the Journal’s history.

Tags: ······

No Comments so far ↓

There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.

Leave a Comment