Lack of press freedom inspires innovation and creativity, even in toughest areas of northern Mexico

Dr. Celeste González de Bustamante is an associate professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Arizona and an affiliated faculty member of the UA Center for Latin American Studies. She is the author of Muy buenas noches,” Mexico, Television and the Cold War  and co-editor of Arizona Firestorm: Global Immigration Realities, National Media, and Provincial Politics . Prior to entering the academy, Dr. González de Bustamante reported and produced commercial and public television for 16 years, covering politics and the U.S./Mexico border. Dr. Jeannine Relly is an assistant professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Arizona. She is an affiliated faculty member with the Center for Latin American Studies and holds a courtesy appointment with the School of Government and Public Policy. She has published numerous articles in top academic journals. Before joining the academy, she worked as a journalist in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands and in the Caribbean. Follow them @celestegdb @JeannineRelly

Professors Relly and González de Bustamante are founding members of the Border Journalism Network. Since 2011, they have interviewed more than 100 journalists and activists from Mexico and the U.S. They have published two academic articles on violence and journalism along the U.S.-Mexico border in the International Journal of Press/Politics and Digital Journalism. They are now working on a book examining the same subject.

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Banners on El Diario de Juarez's building remind the public of two journalists from the paper who were murdered. (Photo: Celeste González de Bustamante)

Banners on El Diario de Juarez’s building remind the public of two
journalists from the paper who were murdered. (Photo: Celeste González de Bustamante)

In the city of Reynosa, and in other parts of the state of Tamaulipas, it’s common for members of the news media to have to wait for a “green light,” before publishing stories about delicate matters such as organized crime and drug cartels. A newsroom editor answers to two bosses, the owners of the news media outlet and the leaders of organized crime.

“We never imagined that we would have to wait for orders,” said Héctor Hugo Jimenez,” a 30-year-veteran journalist and editor-in-chief of Verbo Libres Editores, which publishes the bi-monthly alternative newspaper Hora Cero in Reynosa and Monterrey, Nuevo León.

In 2014, violence and gang warfare continue at high levels in Reynosa. And since 2010, after the split of the Gulf and the Zetas cartels, two powerful transnational criminal organizations, the old rules that governed newsrooms changed dramatically. Antonio Mazzitelli, representative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Mexico said that his office began to track a unique situation along the border of crime bosses dictating the news. Before, Mazzitelli said, “violence, generally speaking, operated by crime tended to be hidden, not so broadcasted and visible.”

Although the rule of waiting for a green or red light has been in place for several years, that doesn’t mean that all forms of journalism in Tamaulipas or other parts of the border have been silenced. Under extreme circumstances, journalists have looked for innovative ways to publish and professionalize their craft.

In 2011, Jimenez directed Una ruta nada santa: de San Salvador a San Fernando (An unholy route: From San Salvador to San Fernando). Heriberto Deandar Robinson, owner of Verbo Libres produced the film. The documentary retraces the lives and route of two Salvadoran migrants who were massacred in 2010 along with 70 other migrants, most from Central America. Their bodies were found on a ranch in San Fernando, Tamaulipas.

Jimenez said that at the time, to question who was responsible for the murders of 72 migrants would have amounted to a death sentence. Nevertheless, they knew they had to cover the story, somehow. The documentary won an award from the Inter-American Press Association in 2012 for journalism excellence in the category of Human Rights and Community Service.

In Nuevo Laredo, the Cantu Deandar family is being honored and is celebrating 90 years of publishing news in Tamaulipas. Don Heriberto Deandar Amador first founded Verbo Libre in 1924, and in 1932 began to publish El Mañana de Nuevo Laredo.

The current editor-in-chief of El Mañana, Ramón Darío Cantú Deandar reflects on his family’s journalism tradition in times of crisis. “What motivates me is saving a business that’s been around for 90 years. That’s why I’m there.”

West of Nuevo Laredo, in Ciudad Juárez, which a few years ago ranked as one of the world’s most dangerous cities, journalists continue to struggle to publish investigative journalism.

In response to a violent working environment, and after El Diario de Juárez lost two of its journalists, several female reporters at the paper founded the Juárez Journalists Network (Red de Periodistas de Juárez).

The network lists among its goals: professionalization of journalists, organizing workshops on investigative journalism skills, dealing with victims, and increasing safety among reporters.

Rocio Gallegos, one of the co-founders of the network and current editor-in-chief of El Diario de Juárez said, “first, we focused on security and self-protection.”

Looking back at the worst years of the violence, Gallegos said with emotion in her voice, “I feel so proud of the Juárez journalists. I’m not just talking about my colleagues at El Diario, but colleagues from all over Ciudad Juárez, in newspapers and television.”

This blog post is our introduction to a collection of dozens of interviews with journalists and activists in Mexico and along both sides of the border. We consider their experiences as critical oral histories.

We feel strongly that the public should hear about the experiences of journalists and activists to help improve understanding about the borderlands and Mexico. As a result, we are including our interviews in an open-access archive titled “The Documented Border,” which will be launched on October 8.

About virginiaisaad

Virginia is a journalist based in Los Angeles who's written for publications including Los Angeles magazine, Upworthy, and Elite Daily. She was born in Argentina and raised in the San Fernando Valley along with her three siblings. Fun fact: She took a Chicanas and Feminism course with Eva Longoria while studying for her master's in mass communication at California State University, Northridge. Follow her on Twitter @virginiaisaad

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