* This post has been updated to include information about the team at Dromómanos.
For three years, journalists Alejandra Sánchez Inzunza and José Luis Pardo Veiras traveled more than 34,000 miles through 18 Latin American countries in a third-hand Volkswagen Pointer. Their objective: to tell the story of the region’s cocaine route.
That project, Narco América, launched Dromómanos, a journalistic production company specializing in long-term stories on violence and social conflict in Latin America, in 2011. Journalist Pablo Ferri was also involved with the project at the time, but is no longer part of the Dromómanos team.
Now, Sánchez and Pardo are touring cities and towns in seven of the region’s most violent countries in search of answers to a new question: Why are more people killed in Latin America than in any other part of the world?
For more than a decade, the homicide rate in Latin America and the Caribbean has been three times higher than the average global murder rate, according to researcher and co-founder of Instituto Igarapé in Brazil, Robert Muggah. According to the study Muggah referenced, almost four people die in the region every 15 minutes.
When Sánchez and Pardo started out, En Malos Pasos (Down the Wrong Path) was conceived as a traditional journalistic investigation looking at violence in the region. But, along the way, it took the form of a transmedia web platform that seeks to create community while trying to explain the realities of violence in Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico.
When this project began at the beginning of 2017, Sánchez and Pardo, from Mexico and Spain, respectively, started touring cities and towns in these countries, interviewing victims of violence as well as victimizers, activists, judges and police, among others.
"En Malos Pasos now has bet a lot on the creation of community, people can participate, can talk with us, and from there we are also generating products, so that it becomes a serious debate in which not only people who have suffered can participate, but also people that perhaps are not affected by the violence, but who, at a given moment, could be decision makers," José Luis Pardo told the Knight Center.
With issues of violence, it is often very difficult to establish bridges between the characters, the people in the stories, and the readers, Pardo said, because they come from two completely different worlds.
"Homicide and violence are very concentrated in the continent. We have been developing certain strategies, and it has been turning into a project that is much more transmedia," he explained.
For example, during the Gabriel García Márquez Journalism Festival this year, held annually in Medellín, Colombia, Dromómanos installed a telephone booth in its quest to produce journalism that is more interpersonal, an "offline journalism." In the booth, the journalists explained, the people who participated had to answer, through a video call, the question of one of the protagonists of some of the stories of violence that they cover in Latin America.
"I believe that this generates new paths of empathy to understand that the violence, even if it is not around your corner, does affect you, it does affect the place where you live, and it is very important in the countries. I think that's what Dromómanos has evolved in," Pardo said.
One of the objectives of this project, Pardo said, is to give users an experience, and for them to be able to navigate the site through the testimonies written in the first person, the soundtrack and the maps. Thus, Pardo continued, people will have greater knowledge of these stories of violence in Latin America and will be able contact Dromómanos to see how they can participate.
An example of Dromómanos’ transmedia narrative is a story told about an ex-convict who is now a pastor in the turbulent region of Baixada Fluminense, in the State of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Alex Marmelo has been a pastor for 17 years, and his mission is to save young people who have few resources from crime in their city.
His story, "The Homicide Reducer," is told in the first person on the site’s blog and also briefly through of a map of his region, in Rio, with images of what he does in his center. You can also listen to a soundtrack from Brazil that brings more atmosphere to the story.
On Dromómanos’ website, within the project En Malos Pasos, there is the option of contacting the journalists to talk with them about the situations of violence they have reported or to add some important information to these stories.
"We have been asked for several Skype appointments, chat or, sometimes, if it is possible to see us in person. There are academics, journalists, or people who have suffered some violence and who want to tell what has happened, or who think about their country or their specific context," Sánchez told the Knight Center.
According to Sánchez, from their experience with En Malos Pasos, they see that there is a community interested in talking about violence, in discussing it and understanding it.
"Because when there is talk of violence, there is a lot of prejudice, stigma and clichés, so, we believe that maybe this personalized interaction, in addition to the content already created, helps deepen the debate," she said.
The project, which has funding from Open Society Foundation, is part of the Instinto de Vida campaign, an international effort by several actors and regional organizations that aims to halve the homicide rate in Latin America in the next ten years. Dromómanos is one of the campaign’s founding members.
According to Sánchez and Pardo, Dromómanos’ contribution to this campaign through En Malos Pasos is to help visualize the issue and give it a different focus so that the normalization of violence will cease in the region and for there to be more awareness of the subject.
For Sánchez, the good thing about being part of a campaign like Instinto de Vida is that they are less alone, that they are working along with other actors in the region, with the common purpose of contributing to the reduction of homicide figures, both at the local and regional levels.
With En Malos Pasos, Sánchez said they are being much more ambitious than they initially imagined, "even more than with Narcoamérica, that although they were more countries, it was finally just the publication of reports and a book." Additionally, Sánchez said that although they thought about dedicating just one year to En Malos Pasos, they plan to work on it all next year and in the future expand it to other regions beyond Latin America.
Currently they are still experimenting with transmedia and transmedia offline concepts, and they have planned videogames and other kinds of installations in various cities of the seven countries where they’ve travelled, such as Mexico City and San Salvador, among others.
At the same time, they plan to hold workshops on journalism and violence coverage, based on their experience with En Malos Pasos, and also to publish a book about the project.
Carlos Serrano and Marta Martínez joined the team this year, since the start of the En Malos Pasos project. Serrano is the digital strategist and Martínez is the creative editor and community manager. Both live in New York City and are part of the digital concept that Dromómanos is beginning to develop.
During the month of December, the founders of Dromómanos will take a break to recharge their batteries and continue their reporting. In January, they will resume their tour of the region, spending some time in San Salvador, where they were for the last two months, then heading to Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico.
In addition to the Dromómanos site, readers can also find articles and crónicas produced from Sánchez and Pardo’s travels in media outlets such as Mexico’s El Universal from México, The New York Times in Spanish, El País from España, Vice News, among others. In publishing these stories, by request or of their own initiative, the team is trying to place various topics related to violence on the agendas of these media outlets and in front of their readers.
These "media outlets have a reach that we will never have or attempt to have," Pardo said.
When Dromómanos started at the end of 2011, Pardo said it was a way to join two passions: travelling and telling long-term stories.
“I think that has evolved towards something professional, towards a production company that allows us to live from the journalism we have, and to make ambitious projects.”
Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.