Soon before the “caravans” in Mexico were plastered across headlines internationally, a group of journalists spread throughout the country made a plan – the reporters would follow along with the refugees and migrants from the beginning to the end of their trip.
The reporters covered almost every step of the nearly 2,500-mile journey from Chiapas to Tijuana, marking their most comprehensive project since starting Tejiendo Redes, an alliance of 12 local media organizations throughout Mexico.
The group, whose name roughly translates to "weaving nets," recently celebrated its first year anniversary, and some of the reporters look back on their coverage of the caravan as an example of their success and as inspiration for the years to come.
“We had started to see the conditions that were changing in this unprecedented situation … of a massive flow of people moving throughout the country,” Director of La Verdad in Juárez Rocío Gallegos told the Knight Center. “I think that the strategic location of the media outlets of the alliance has been fundamental in order to be able to show the situation experienced [in terms] of human rights conditions.”
The alliance boasts another big achievement in its first year. In November, Google announced that the alliance had won the Google News Initiative Innovation Challenge, a global competition that aims to support innovative media publishing models. The alliance was one of two news organizations in Mexico that was awarded the prize.
The outlets that are currently a part of the alliance include: Chiapas Paralelo (Chiapas), Lado B (Puebla), Pie de Página (Mexico City), Voz Alterna (Veracruz), Raíchali (Chihuahua), Amapola and Trinchera (Guerrero), ZonaDocs (Jalisco), La Verdad (Ciudad Juárez), Página 3 (Oaxaca), Inndaga (Sinaloa) and Perimetral.press (Jalisco).
Security in Mexico
Tejiendo Redes began in June 2018. From Chiapas to Sinaloa, the alliance united local media outlets throughout eight states in Mexico. Through this new connection, the reporters hoped they could continue producing independent, watchdog journalism while supporting each other and working collaboratively.
The reporters said one of the reasons for starting the alliance was practical: There’s strength in numbers. The regions many of them live in can be dangerous for journalists.
Mexico is one of the deadliest countries in the world for journalists. In fact, this year Mexico is the most dangerous country in the world for media professionals, with at least ten journalists killed, according to freedom of expression organization Article 19 Mexico. And remote regions can be even more risky for journalists.
“The media alliance drives a free press in the states of Mexico, where violence is endemic in many regions, where we have faced attacks and murders of colleagues,” Gallegos said. “But I think that this has helped us walk hand-in-hand and has strengthened us to continue to do journalism – to continue to do the journalism that achieves changes in our country.”
But it’s not only the reporters’ personal security that the alliance is hoping to ensure. They also want to be able to fully and accurately cover violence and human rights conditions in these insecure regions.
Mexico is on track to have its deadliest year since the government began keeping track of the numbers in 1997. Crime is most pronounced in northern regions; although Chiapas, where Chiapas Paralelo journalist Ángeles Mariscal works, is also currently under a U.S. government-issued travel warning due to crime in the region.
Mariscal said, that among other things, violent conditions and the precarious economy in these areas were motivations for joining the alliance. The reporters want to do justice to the people and stories in their communities, Mariscal said. She added that they believe they can do so by banding together.
“I believe that because we are together, we can be stronger,” Mariscal told the Knight Center. “Basically, [the media in the alliance] revolve around construing better societies. Better societies in the immediate places where we live.”
Outside of providing more security for journalists and allowing them to better cover violent conflicts, the alliance was also intended to assist the local media outlets keep afloat during a difficult economic time for news organizations.
Mariscal said simple things like basic website upkeep and administration can be hard to manage, especially for news outlets based in more rural regions like Chiapas.
Outlets that are part of the alliance hoped that sharing resources and breaking up some of the responsibilities would benefit all of the outlets, according to Jade Ramírez Cuevas, a journalist with Periodistas de a Pie and who focuses on freedom of expression for the alliance. So far, she said this has been working.
“It guarantees … that freedom of expression exists in these independent media thanks to the alliance that distributes and shares knowledge, skills, secrets of funding alternatives for how to do some kind of investigation or to find resources,” Ramírez Cuevas said. “The alliance generates an exchange of knowledge and expertise in all areas of journalistic work.”
They’re hoping to ramp up their fundraising efforts in the upcoming year as part of their Google project.
In 2020, the journalists say that with the help of the tech company they will explore different options for sustainability. With the support of Google, the alliance is working on developing a common subscription platform for the media outlets in the group.
Ernesto Aroche, co-director, reporter and editor of Lado B in Puebla, said financial stability is crucial for maintaining their independence. In Mexico, the government is one of the main financial contributors for many media outlets via official advertising. As a result, those media outlets, at times, don’t have much of a say in the content they produce.
Aroche told the Knight Center that journalists who are a part of Tejiendo Redes think it’s important to make sure there’s not an economic link between the news media and people and institutions of power. They don’t want to depend on federal funds.
“For decades Mexican journalism has depended on government money, which has implied political control of the media, a problem that is worst in the local context,” the alliance wrote in its Google project proposal.
Aroche said he believes that the alliance can accomplish this independence and be financially successful because communities value the local reporting they’re producing.
“We want to strengthen journalism through the relationship with the audience, avoiding the control exercised by political and economic powers through the payment of official publicity,” they wrote in the project proposal.
Too often, Aroche said, journalists focus only on what’s taking place in Mexico City, where nearly all major media outlets are based along with most federal institutions.
That’s not the case with the reporters from the alliance who spoke to the Knight Center.
“We wanted to change the narrative … things don’t only happen in Mexico City,” Aroche said. “For many years, media outlets and journalists really separated ourselves [from readers]. We are interested in how to re-establish that link. We are interested in knowing and listening to the problems of the people.”
Tackling the big issues
In addition to finding methods to stay financially stable by fostering stronger bonds with readers, the reporters of the alliance said they also want to focus on more collaborative efforts, like their story about the caravan.
“The objective is to start with investigative work that allows us to respond to national problems,” Aroche said.
Gallegos echoed this saying the group wants to collectively tackle grave issues facing Mexico.
“Our coverage is focused on revealing the situations of violence, of human rights violations,” Gallegos said. “We are talking about making damages to the environment visible and making cases of corruption visible.”
Future of Tejiendo Redes
One thing is for sure: Tejiendo Redes is just getting started. In fact some of the reporters from the alliance hope that the idea of an alliance between local media outlets will spread to other regions in Mexico.
The journalists said they don’t think of other outlets as competition. On the contrary, some of the reporters said they’re on board with the idea of embracing more local media outlets into the group.
“Why not add more media outlets that have the same mission to do journalism and to do journalism that empowers citizens? A free journalism. A journalism that seeks to make visible the conditions of many regions of the country,” Gallegos said.