Journalism As Activism: A Talk With Photojournalist Marcio Pimenta

On Feb. 19 and 20, Marcio Pimenta, an internationally-recognized freelance photographer and journalist, held a student talk and public lecture discussing entry into the journalism profession and the activism aspect of the industry.

Pimenta’s two events were sponsored by the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility in collaboration with the Pulitzer Campus Consortium Network (a new three-year partnership initiated in Fall 2019). As a member of the Campus Consortium, Swarthmore is connected with renowned journalists, and every year one student is selected from a summer reporting fellowship. Through the partnership, both organizations seek to support investigative journalism across all media types as a means of maintaining free thought, political engagement, and informed citizenship across the world. 

Pimenta, based in South Brazil, has reported from numerous countries and received a number of awards for his environmentally-focused work. As a journalist he has been featured in the National Geographic, Rolling Stone, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, and El País. In 2016 and 2017, Pimenta traveled to Iraq to report on the war with the Islamic State and the rebirth of the Yazidis women. In 2018, he was in Antarctica and after this trip has sought to document the societal relationships with climate change across the Americas. 

At the first student lunch, Pimenta was joined by Holly Piepenburg, a recent graduate of Southern Illinois University Carbondale and Outreach Coordinator for the Pulitzer Center. While studying Radio, Television, and Digital Media at university, Piepenburg worked as the news director for River Region Evening Edition (Southern Illinois University’s award-winning student-run broadcast) and as a producer for an ABC affiliate in southern Illinois. In 2017, Piepenburg received a Pulitzer Center Campus Consortium summer fellowship, and as a result in 2018 conducted the reporting project “Taken: Civil Asset Forfeiture.”  

Piepenburg spoke about her student experience working in the television industry, and its relation to the wider field of journalism. Jack Pokorny ’19, Urban Initiatives fellow and teaching assistant at the Lang Center, who is involved in running the Pulitzer partnership, shared his views on Piepenburg’s contribution to the talk.     

“I thought her comments provided students with a realistic and honest sense of where journalism is currently as a field. She also was very helpful in providing support and guidance about how to gain access to journalism as an occupation,” said Pokorny. “She spoke about the importance of lifting up voices that are often silenced in an older, white, male-dominated field, and specifically pointed towards journalistic associations like the National Association of Black Journalists that are doing that important work.”

Pimenta echoed Piepenburg’s comments on the importance of giving voice to the underrepresented, and in his lecture spoke of bringing greater media attention to the plight of communities struggling under the negative effects of both climate change and capitalism.  

“I thought Marcio’s speech … was very insightful, specifically about the impact of economic forces in South America on deforestation, ecological ruin, and human dignity and wellbeing. His work, titled “Stress Nexus”, provides a beautiful but horrifying sense of how the systems we all rely upon are changing, both negatively impacting and failing to lift up the people who most need help in this period of late stage capitalism,” Pokorny said. Pimenta’s lecture is the sixth event hosted by the Lang Center this year as part of their Civic Journalism series. Other events have featured “Inside Yemen: Reporting on the Human Cost of War” by Middle East correspondent Marcia Biggs and “Reporting Against the Machine: Covering the World’s Largest Election in 2019” by author and journalist Raghu Karnard on the recent Indian election. “Global Perspectives on Populism and Public Health: How to Avoid the Perfect Storm” by scholar Dr. Walter Ricciardi, “Activism Under Totalitarianism” by Marsha Gessen author on Russian politics, and “The Politics of Planning and Implementing the 2020 Census” by Hansi Lo Wang ’09, NPR National Correspondent are other recent events.   Reflecting on the successes of the Lang Center-Pulitzer partnership so far, Pokorny has high hopes for the future of the program, particularly in regards to the summer fellowship. “I’m excited to support this year’s Pulitzer Fellowship grantee, whoever they are, and I look forward to growing the journalism community on campus.” said Pokorny. “Next year, I look forward to having a Swarthmore student who has participated in the fellowship and to hear their reflections on conducting international reporting.”

Photo courtesy of Princeton Huang of The Phoenix

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