“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. Fear forces us to stake stock of our lives and reminds us how much life means to us.”
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.
“So,” he continued, “what we cover and how we cover this story is a very personal decision.” Then he confessed: “I became a 2009 Nieman Fellow because I was scared.” And it wasn’t the first time he withdrew from the country of his birth seeking safety.
Corchado was honored for courageous journalism with Colby’s Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award, 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 presses against a pro-slavery mob.
Corchado’s talk traced the arc of his emotions: from fear to the numbness he felt when he returned to the beat and felt disconnected from the story and still afraid; then from numbness to anger.
He described a gang attack that mistakenly killed students celebrating at a birthday party. The hitmen “stormed in and lined up and killed thirteen of the thirty-six. 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, 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.”
Corchado’s address is online both as a transcript and an audio recording.