Sandy Tolan has been seeking the story beneath the story since he and a partner founded Desert West Research and Information in Flagstaff in 1982.
Through his independent news agency, Tolan has done numerous stories for National Public Radio and other outlets over the years, especially shining with long-time partner Carol Ann Bassett during the mid-Eighties on reports of the Sanctuary Movement for Central American refugees.
While gaining critical acceptance along the way--Desert West has garnered several national awards, and last year, Tolan won the Arizona Press Club's Broadcast Journalist of the Year award--money has been tough to come by.
But Tolan and company found a nest egg a few weeks ago: The Corporation for Public Broadcasting and NPR will give Desert West $274,000 to produce a twenty-part series on displaced peoples. The project, to be called "Vanishing Homelands: A Search for the Roots of Displacement," is slated to air nationally in about eighteen months.
"We're pretty excited, to put it mildly," says Tolan, who moved to Tucson in 1986. "We've plodded along and plodded along on a shoestring for a long time, and then someone comes along and drops a quarter of a million bucks in your lap. It's a bit overwhelming, but we're really looking forward to this opportunity."
So, what's all this talk about "displacement?"
"Whether you're talking about a gram of cocaine or a fast-food hamburger," Tolan says, "the consumption by First World people has direct implications to someone somewhere else. You can trace that piece of meat from the Burger King or wherever all the way back to its start in the Americas.
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"People in Third World countries are being forced to move into the cities or onto lands that are completely drained, and we'll show the reasons why. I'm talking about millions of peasants."
Tolan says he wants to do more "than just point out how the lives of Third World people are being altered" by the consumption habits of the rest of us.
"When you turn on a light switch in Tucson, you're burning Navajo coal," he says. "That simple act affects people in all kinds of ways that we will be pointing out."
Tolan will co-produce the series with Bassett, and at least six other people will work with the pair on the project, he says.--