“Fear is a survival skill,” 2010 Lovejoy Award-winner Alfredo Corchado told a rapt audience Sept. 26. “If you’re not scared, you become reckless.”
Corchado covers the U.S.-Mexico border and epidemic drug violence there: one of the most dangerous journalism beats in the world. Henchmen of the drug cartels have threatened to kill him, chop his body into pieces, and dissolve it in a barrel of acid—“a common technique in Mexico,” he said in his speech.
He was honored for courageous journalism with Colby’s Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award. The Lovejoy is presented in memory of an 1826 Colby graduate who became America’s first martyr to freedom of the press after he was killed defending his press against a pro-slavery mob.
“I became a 2009 Nieman Fellow because I was scared,” Corchado confessed. And that wasn’t the first time he withdrew from the country of his birth seeking safety.
Corchado’s talk traced the arc of his emotions: from fear as he left Mexico for Harvard’s Nieman Fellowship to the numbness he felt when he returned to his beat but felt disconnected from the story. Eventually that numbness gave way to anger.
The 2010 Lovejoy winner described a gang attack that mistakenly killed students at a birthday party. The hit men, thinking they were attacking a rival gang, “stormed in and lined up and killed thirteen of the thirty-six [students]. While friends or brothers and sisters hid in closets, others hid underneath the bodies of their friends and siblings,” he said.
After covering the story, he was glad it was raining at the funeral, he said, because it hid the tears streaming down his face. “And on that sad, gray, rainy morning I broke my silence and found my voice again.”