Journalism and research

One of the things that’s doing the rounds at the moment is criticism of my Guardian article for not adhering to standard journalistic practices. That would be justified if my article were a standalone piece, like most journalistic articles are. Clearly, if that’s all the reader has to go on, then you need to put your key evidence in there. But my article is not a standard journalistic article, it’s a very short summary of the key arguments of a sizeable book, and everyone who has commented knows that. It’s blatantly obvious that the evidence will be in the book, so pursuing this line of critique is simply an avoidance strategy: focusing on the form in order to dodge the content. Very little of the critical commentary has addressed the actual substance of my article, though this is perhaps hardly surprising, given that the loudest objectors are by and large the ones who know least about the Venezuelan program.

I don’t think avoidance will work, though. Too many people know too many inconvenient truths, and I think a few more are going to start speaking out now. (I may be wrong – it would be unwise to underestimate the double insecurity that many Venezuelan musicians feel, working for an authoritarian institution within an increasingly dysfunctional society.) That’s why I published a newspaper article: El Sistema’s international hegemony operates through the mainstream media, and that’s where it needs to be questioned. An article in an academic journal just wasn’t going to turn the Sistema monologue into a debate; it would simply have been ignored. I don’t care about journalistic conventions – I care about creating a space for some of El Sistema’s hidden stories to be heard.

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