Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Dynamics of Covering the Border

By Sara Vicenta Cabral

President Barack Obama's visit to Mexico yesterday, serves as a reminder that drugs and violence remain at the forefront of the issues shaping the relationship between the U.S and Mexican border.

In today's SPJ “Covering the U.S – Mexico Border” panelist offered insights into aspects the drug war has shaped in border news coverage, and the dilemmas journalists face as the saga unfolds.

“Since 2009 news rooms have dwindled at a time where news in Mexico exploded," says Alfredo Corchada, Mexico Bureau Chief of the Dallas Morning News and author of "Midnight in Mexico," which will be released later this May. Contributing to this decline is the two percent conviction rate and the increasing number of those kidnapped and killed along the Mexican border. 

They do not enjoy the same privileges as U.S. reporters, says Corchada, who will be pulled out of wherever they are if they feel threatened.
Further complicating border coverage is Mexico's efforts to change its narrative which go untold.

"Going to trial, you see the bigger picture," says Corchada, referring to his coverage of those facing trials in relation to the drug violence. 

"We are not really tying the links between Mexico City, U.S., and the carteles," he adds, "follow the money."

"There is more pressure on keeping the story alive and keeping up with other stories," says Corchada. Among those stories is Mexico's flourishing tourist, trade, and economic health, it's rising middle class, and redefining where the "border" lies. 

The panelists also addressed audience inquiries regarding the measures that could be taken when covering the drug war.

"Find who controls the region," says Corchada, "based on that make a decision." Asked why knowing who controls the region is important, Corchada added "Zetas don't like the press."

"Be thoughtful about why you are being sent there," says Angela Kocherga, Border Bureau Chief for Belo television, is one of the best ways journalist covering the drug wars can prepare to ensure their safety during their assignments.

Kocherga also warns journalists to be mindful in choosing their sources and think about the impact the information obtained will have on the source's safety.

Moderator Jason Buch, who covers immigration and border affairs at San Antonio Express-News, warns about the use of unsolicited information from unknown sources regarding possible targets.
"We don't know who sends this," says Buch. 

The threat of death and violence against those directly and indirectly involved has shaped news content and news gathering practices as it pertains to border coverage. Often, cartel activity twists a journalists arms into unconventional practices including source disclosure, type of content included, an the revision process.

"We think we are special but when we are put in that corner, we can't really judge," says Kocherga. 


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