Journalism prof Hector Tobar interviewed on Chilean mining disaster

Journalsim professor Hector Tobar
UO journalism professor Hector Tobar

On Aug. 5, 2010, millions of people turned their attention to the South American country of Chile, where 33 miners had been trapped underground by a massive cave-in.

Their 69-day underground ordeal and rescue grabbed headlines around the world and was turned into a widely praised book by UO journalism professor Hector Tobar that has now been turned into a movie. Tobar’s book, “Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free,” was published last year and was just released in paperback. The movie, “The 33,” is set to premiere Nov. 13.

The Oregonian recently published an extensive interview with Tobar. Newspapers and websites across the country also have interviewed Tobar for stories in advance of the movie release.

At the time of the mine collapse, Tobar was a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist at the Los Angeles Times. He didn’t choose to write about the miners; the miners chose him, granting him exclusive access to their story after hiring a talent agency to find the right author.

Shortly after the book came out, Tobar started teaching at the UO’s School of Journalism and Communication through a visiting professorship — an experience that led to his current, permanent position in the journalism school. But the book and his experience with the miners continues to fascinate people.

 “These men set a world record,” Tobar said in the Oregonian interview. “They were trapped underground longer than anyone in history with extreme conditions of heat and humidity and the mountain constantly rumbling above them.”

Tobar had to win the trust of all 33 miners, an experience unlike any he had before.

“… (W)hen I got to Chile I had to win these guys over,” he said. “They could have easily turned against me and seen me as a symbol of the outside world and the people who were trying to (mess with) them.”

— By Nathaniel Brown, Public Affairs Communications