Visiting journalist Dawn Paley co-teaches course on media writing

Sara Platnick

Journalist Dawn Paley was brought to Whitman College from Nov. 10-15 as part of an intensive media workshop through the Global Studies Initiative on how to write and pitch journalism stories.

The one-credit interdisciplinary course focused on generating ideas, writing articles and pitching pieces to engage with the mainstream media. The course hoped to bring more of a focus to journalism writing to the classroom. Paley, who co-taught the course along with Professor of Politics Aaron Bobrow-Strain, is a freelance journalist who focuses on covering the drug wars in the Americas. She is the author of the book “Drug War Capitalism,” which draws from her work covering the wars.

Paley has worked for a variety of media publications, writing articles for The Guardian, The Globe and Mail and Ms. Magazine covering the drug wars and a video for AJ+ on the topic. “Drug War Capitalism” explores the use of terror within the drug wars and how that has led to social, policy and territorial control within the region.

“ [‘Drug War Capitalism’] chronicles how terror is used against the population at large in cities and rural areas, generating panic and facilitating policy changes that benefit the international private sector, particularly extractive industries like petroleum and mining. This is what is really going on. This is drug war capitalism,” said Paley in the summary on her book.

Visiting journalist Dawn Paley speaks to The Pioneer staff. Photo by Tywen Kelly.

After reading her book, Bobrow-Strain worked to see how he could bring Paley in to talk about this topic and journalism in general. Paley and Strain met up in Tucson, Ariz. while he was working on the U.S.-Mexico border trip.

“There are a lot of journalistic accounts of the drug war in Mexico, and most of them tend to emphasize the really sensationalist conflicts between cartels and the government. Hers was the first book that I had come across by a journalist that really tried to understand the larger political economy of the drug war, so I really liked the way she is able to move between sparkling journalistic writing and a really thoughtful, well-theorized understanding of the larger political economic context,” said Bobrow-Strain.

Paley was brought to campus for this workshop through the O’Donnell Endowed Chair in Global Studies to co-teach the course from a journalist’s perspective. The workshop was conducted through the Global Studies Initiative, which has undergone some contentious changes recently. Though the fund that brought Paley to campus has not been affected by the change, Bobrow-Strain still sees some impact to the overall changes in the Global Studies Initiative to bringing in outside speakers.

“I think … a lot of the work in Global Studies is still done as an overload, and I suppose technically [bringing in outside speakers] could continue, but I think that the problem is the way in which the decision about the course releases, this one area where we had worked on and tried to solve the overload question, I think that ended up creating larger wounds that could have threatened all of this other exciting stuff that goes along with Global Studies,” said Bobrow-Strain.  

Nevertheless, students were able to gain valuable lessons and feedback from Paley during her visit. Because Whitman does not have a journalism or communications department, fewer opportunities exist on campus to get a journalistic opinion on writing. Students ultimately left the program with ideas on how to brainstorm topics to write about, how to write a journalistic piece, how to pitch an article or idea to a media source and feedback on articles that they had written.

Senior Brenna Bailey participated in the workshop, and is working on a piece through the workshop that looks at the racialization of language about civility when discussing protest tactics, focusing specifically on the Whitman protests on the Women in Leadership symposium.  

“[I’ve learned] a lot of nitpicky things, like stylistic details of writing a journalism piece. I didn’t know much about that at all… but understanding things like what paragraphs are and when to hook your reader in, the nut graph … I’m learning all of this lingo, and so it’s great to have all of this new language but also really important if I ever want to do some writing like this,” said Bailey.