Latin America is full of stories about organized crime. However, according to journalists who specialize in the subject, the vast majority of published stories focus on those at the top of the criminal pyramid and not on the people who suffer violence as collateral damage.
It was under this premise that In.Visibles, an independent, regional and bilingual news outlet, was created with the support of SembraMedia and Google News Initiative's first new media incubation program.
The purpose of this program was to support the development of journalistic ventures in Latin America, not only with funds but also with personalized support focused on the idea of long-term sustainability.
"The idea for In.Visibles, which was launched on Aug. 4, is the product of many years of talks and exchange of ideas with other journalists and creatives in the region," Josefina Salomón, co-founder and editorial director of In.Visibles, told LatAm Journalism Review (LJR).
"We’re used to seeing this story from a single point of view, but we believe that the most relevant questions for the current security discussion have to do with all those other largely anonymous people: women who make up the largest proportion of people detained for micro-trafficking crimes, Indigenous communities kidnapped by criminal gangs in their own lands, officials who try to change the status quo but do not have the support they need, to name a few examples," she added.
Organized crime is a problem in Latin America. According to the Global Organized Crime Index, the region is on the decline and saw crime rise in most countries during 2022. Three Latin American countries are among the five worst in the world in terms of crime: Colombia, Mexico and Paraguay.
For the In.Visibles team, describing the dynamics of the organizations, or accounting for their illegal economies, is not enough. For this reason, they said it is essential to tell stories from the bottom up, and not the other way around. This in turn will inform the kind of security policies that can lift the region out of the crisis in which it finds itself submerged.
"Why do coca growers not engage in other activities? What role do prisons play in the development of criminal organizations? What solutions do Indigenous communities in the Amazon propose? Without exploring these types of questions, any coverage is incomplete," Salomón said.
On its website, In.Visibles states that its work is based on four pillars related to the impact of organized crime: gender, prisons, environment and migration.
So far, it has published two stories.The first is about an operation in a Caracas neighborhood by Venezuelan state security forces to take down a mega-criminal gang. The focus is on how the situation affected area neighbors.
The second tells stories of journalists who have had to flee Ecuador after being threatened by criminal groups or pressured by the government.
The site also has a section of conversations with experts in the coverage of organized crime in Latin America and another section to explain basic concepts related to the topic of violence.
The In.Visibles team is a small group of seven people from different parts of Latin America, most of whom are women. Both Salomón and the other two journalists on the team, Ronna Rísquez and Madeleine Penman, have extensive experience covering inequality, drugs, violence, gender and human rights in the region.
They are currently working on two investigative projects.
The first will address how prison dynamics contribute to the expansion of criminal organizations and possible alternative strategies. The second will focus on investigating the impact of criminal groups on diverse communities.
"We want our stories to really be a window into the lives of people we hardly ever hear from," Solomon said.
According to Josefina Salomón, there are a number of characteristics a journalist should possess to efficiently cover organized crime in Latin America.
These are listed below:
1. Curiosity and perseverance
For Salomón this is one of the most important characteristics, since journalism is not an easy profession and requires a lot of work. Although the satisfactions can also be enormous in this career, without curiosity and perseverance, frustration can emerge.
2. Ethics and empathy
When telling stories about people affected by violence and organized crime, it is essential to respect and care for sources. Also, ethics and empathy must extend to the inside of organizations.
"The idea that to get results you have to exploit teams to the point of burning them out I think belongs to another time, although it’s the mindset with which most of us were trained," Salomón said.
3. Collaborative work
At In.Visibles, collaborative work and a positive and mutually respectful work environment is a priority. Journalists from different countries and news outlets have participated in the projects published so far.