Journalists gather at IRE workshop to discuss reporting under pressure, violence along U.S.-Mexico border

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  • February 27, 2012

Guest post by Lise Olsen, Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE) board member from 2007-2011, and director of IRE-Mexico from 1996-1998.

Twenty leading journalists gathered in Mexico City on Friday, Feb. 18, to exchange information and discuss ways that Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE) can continue to help reporters who, under pressure and often at great personal risk, continue to do investigative reporting on U.S.-Mexico border topics such as children victimized by cartel violence, wasteful government spending, political corruption, cartel operations, as well as the huge economic and social costs of our two nations’ war on drugs.

The event was the fifth in a series of bilingual workshops that IRE conducted from 2009-2012, which were supported in part by grants from the Ford Foundation. To discuss next steps, IRE brought together Mexican and U.S. speakers who had participated in border workshops in Laredo, El Paso and San Diego, as well as Mexico City-based journalists (both Mexicans and American correspondents) who cover similar issues.

Award-winning investigative reporter Sandra Rodriguez of El Diario de Juarez told how she mines both personal sources and public records to dig beneath the surface of the explosion of homicides in Ciudad Juarez. (See more in this video about her work, which won ICFJ ‘s international award.) Proceso Magazine Reporter Marcela Turati (author of the book “Fuego Cruzado,” or "Crossfire") spoke about her innovative approaches to working with victims of violence and about how she has carefully built a grass-roots network of support for journalists within Mexico called Periodistas de a Pie.

Mexico City-based reporters Daniel Lizárraga, author of the book "La Corrupción Azul," an investigative exposé based on Mexican presidential government archives, and Lilia Saul, of El Universal newspaper, spoke about their continuing efforts to use Mexico’s open records law to pressure government officials to release documents about public and political spending.

Well-known veteran investigative editor Ignacio Rodriguez Reyna, founder of EmeEquis magazine, spoke about how the decreasing investment in investigative teams has impacted the ability to do in-depth reporting on the border and elsewhere in Mexico – as well as in the United States – putting a greater burden on individual efforts. Yet his independent magazine has continued to pull off high-impact stories on a low budget, including this incredible story “The Marijuana Republic”, or “La Republica Marihuanera” - an intimate profile of a jefe, or boss, in the La Familia drug cartel - which won the prestigious Rey de España reporting prize.

Two editors whose states have been heavily impacted by violence, Siglo de Torreon editor Javier Garza and Daniel Rosas of El Mañana (Nuevo Laredo) both provided valuable insights about how they manage to continue to cover the news and gather information yet attempt to minimize risks.

At the end of the day, U.S. and Mexican journalists (many of whom are long-time friends and members of IRE) exchanged ideas of how IRE can continue to work with individuals and other journalism groups, such as the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, the Dart Center, the Inter American Press Association, the International Center for Journalists and other gruops, to support investigative reporting on both sides of the border. Among the ideas: build a collective archive of court documents on most-wanted cross-border criminals; continue to offer workshops, online courses and conference panels on cross-border topics; and build stronger networks with other organizations, like the DART Center and the Inter American Press Association, to increase support to investigative journalists under attack.

IRE continues to seek ideas for border initiatives. Send an e-mail to Mark Horvit at mark@ire.org if you are interested or have suggestions.

IRE has a long history of working with its Mexican and border journalist members. From 1996-1999, IRE operated a Mexico City organization, known as IRE-Mexico, that grew to more than 200 members and offered conferences and workshops across Latin America. In 1999, IRE-Mexico became an independent Mexican non-profit, Periodistas de Investigacion, which later combined forces with another Mexican non-profit - the Center for Journalism and Public Ethics (CEPET in Spanish), a group supported by the Knight Center. More recently, IRE has sponsored border conferences in 2004 in Nuevo Laredo, in 2009 in El Paso and in 2009-2012 in Tucson, San Diego and Laredo. The Taller Arte Luz in Mexico City, a journalism training center owned and operated by former IRE-Mexico member Blanca Juarez, hosted the Feb. 18th event.

Other Related Headlines:
» Knight Center (VIDEO: "The War Next Door: Reporting Mexico, Drugs and the Border" panel presentation)