Over the past 5 weeks network TV news correspondents have been rushing from one natural disaster to another: from Hurricane Harvey in Texas, to Hurricane Irma in Florida, to the earthquake in Mexico, and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
One of those reporters, CBS’s Manuel Bojorquez, has covered three of the four tragedies (his CBS colleague David Begnaud is reporting from Puerto Rico).
Born in El Salvador, Bojorquez grew up in South Central Los Angeles. Bojorquez was inspired to be a broadcast journalist after witnessing the 1992 LA riots first-hand. He graduated magna cum laude from USC in 2000, and immediately got his first TV news job at KESQ in Palm Springs, CA. After stops at KNXV and WSB, Bojorquez joined CBS News in 2012 as a Miami-based correspondent.
This summer, for CBSN On Assignment, Bojorquez reported on the dangers of being a journalist in Mexico. He returned last week to cover the earthquake. We caught up with him over the weekend:
TVNewser: You have had quite a busy month. How are you and your production crew doing?
Bojorquez: To put it simply, we are exhausted. But when you put things into perspective, we cannot complain. We choose to be in these places, as opposed to those who live here and are dealing with so much. When you see people who have lost their material possessions and are still helping their neighbors, no matter the state or country, any fatigue we feel fades in comparison.
How is the Mexico City earthquake different from other stories you have covered in your career?
Every disaster is different. Hurricane forecasts give people a heads up, some time to prepare. But earthquakes don’t come with a forecast. There’s a palpable tension in the air here that aftershocks can happen, and they have.
Journalists like you are there to observe and report, but there’s also a human element to all of this. Have you found yourself assisting anyone in danger down there?
For safety reasons, and for the sake of not getting in the way, we have not been on top of the rubble. But you can’t help but feel for those who are waiting outside hoping their loved one is pulled out alive. You won’t see it on TV, but I’ve found myself hugging every relative we have interviewed. I won’t presume it makes a big difference for them, but it’s the least I can do after they have shared their story with us. Many have thanked us for bringing the world’s attention to their plight.
Give us one specific rescue effort you observed that you didn’t have an opportunity to talk about on-air.
I didn’t observe this, but we interviewed a father who threw himself and his daughter out of a window as his building was collapsing. They lived on the fourth floor and could hear the upper floors falling, one by one. She has special needs. He said he threw her out of the window, and then himself. They landed on top of rubble, but were rescued soon after. We spoke with him at a local hospital, where his daughter was still in tears over what she lived through.
What advice would you give to a TV journalist accustomed to local or domestic reporting, who is assigned an international news story?
Get to know the story, the culture, the region you are going into, etc. I’m fortunate to be bilingual and that goes a long way, but it also helps to be bi-cultural – knowing the local customs, anything that puts people at ease speaking with you. I’m an immigrant from El Salvador and grew up in Los Angeles. I’ve had the fortune of being around people from all over Latin America and retaining the language. I believe that goes a long way in establishing a comfort level with people we meet and interview on assignment. One technique I’ve used is on-the-fly translation, meaning I translate what people are saying into English immediately on tape as we are conversing (with their consent). It helps in the editing, so that we don’t have to dub over a translator’s voice. My hope is that my ability to speak both languages serves as a bridge between the subject and our audience.