Teri Mattson was on her fourth day of rummaging through old photographs when she came upon it: an amber-hued photo of a motorcycle carrying two riders as they approached a checkpoint in Central America. Their backs are to the camera and a dusty haze surrounds them as they edge closer to the unknown barrier.
Ms. Mattson, a longtime West Marin resident who now spends much of the year traveling, was searching for a photograph to encapsulate the feeling of her new project, the Intrepid News Fund. She found it in this snapshot, taken by her friend Rodney Gene Mahaffey a couple of years ago in Honduras.
“I saw it and thought, ‘That’s it.’ This is the inspirational photo I was told to go find. The color was right, it was early sunset and taken through the windshield of a van. The sheen projects intrepidness,” she said.
Now the photograph has been converted into an emblem for the fund, a project that supports travel, ground and research costs for independent journalists to cover news and human-interest stories in Latin America.
Ms. Mattson has been developing the project since early 2017 as a response to diminished funding of independent investigative journalism in mainstream media. It’s a fiscally-sponsored project of the Institute for Public Accuracy that also relies on donations to fund its grants, each worth $5,000.
Ms. Mattson is quick to reaffirm that the Intrepid News Fund is not a publishing platform. When a journalist applies for a grant, they must already have an assignment from an editor. Applications are reviewed by a project review panel comprised of seasoned journalists Reese Erlich, Norman Solomon and Fernando Andres Torres.
Mr. Erlich worked as a staff writer and research editor for Ramparts and has authored multiple books on U.S. policy in the Middle East. Mr. Solomon wrote a weekly nationally syndicated column called “Media Beat” for 17 years; he is the co-founder and coordinator of the online organization RootsAction.org. Mr. Torres is the associate editor and U.S. correspondent for the web magazine Dilemas.cl and is a member of the advisory board of ExposeFacts.org.
Mr. Solomon said they’ll be rigorous about the qualifications of journalists and the subject’s importance when considering proposals.
The Intrepid News Fund launched in early May, when it awarded its first grant to Mr. Erlich, who reported on the current political and social upheaval in Venezuela. He returned with seven stories, including a first-hand look at the massive pro- and anti-government rallies in Caracas and a report on how the county’s economic crisis has taken a toll on music schools.
The audio and print stories were published by Radio Deutsche Welle and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Ms. Mattson’s passion for Latin America began in sixth grade, when she was introduced to Me-soamerican anthropology and archaeology by a teacher. She grew up in San Jose, and graduated from the California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo in 1984 with degrees in pre-law and journalism.
After 15 years working in commercial real estate development, Ms. Mattson moved to West Marin, buying the bed and breakfast Ten Inverness Way. Since selling the inn in 2014, she has since organized and participated in educational delegations to Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
She feels most inspired by the revolution countries (her favorites being Venezuela, Cuba and Haiti) because the people live a more engaged political life.
“You can really feel the difference in the people on the street,” she said. “These people have really changed their governments and you don’t see that in other countries. You see how engaged they are: they know their own constitution and have won new laws. It’s a very different feeling to walk among people who have done that.”
The idea for the fund arose after she attended a talk in San Francisco by Eva Bartlett, an independent journalist who reports from Syria. Ms. Mattson was encouraged by the idea of privately funding journalists. Last December, she had a conversation with Mr. Solomon, whom she knew from his 2010 Congressional campaign, which she helped run. She asked, “How crazy is it to start a fund to send people to Latin America for independent journalism?”
He encouraged her to begin outlining what the fund would look like—such as finding a photo to symbolize its efforts—and spent the winter developing the
This month, the fund announced its collaboration with KWMR. Audio reports funded by the project will be featured on the radio station; three of Mr. Erlich’s pieces are already available in the station’s archive. Ms. Mattson said the fund is just $2,000 short of being able to sponsor its next grant.
Mr. Solomon, who founded the nonprofit Institute for Public Accuracy in 1997, said his institute has provided a bit of infrastructure support and guidance as the fund takes off, but credits the vision to Ms. Mattson.
“Teri understands how much we need—and currently lack—independent sources of eyewitness reporting and analysis,” Mr. Solomon, an Inverness Park resident and longtime media critic, said. “Drawing on her long experience in business and her recent years of involvement in Latin American issues, Teri is able to organize very effectively. A lot of what we think we know about events in the Caribbean and south of the United States is apt to be filtered through the propaganda grid that dominates U.S. media. The Intrepid News Fund is a valuable step towards correcting the chronic imbalances.”