Salvadoran news site El Faro collaborates with The New York Times to publish report on gangs

Major U.S. newspaper, The New York Times, collaborated with award-winning Salvadoran investigative news site El Faro to publish a report about the gangs of El Salvador.

The Nov. 21 report, “Killers on a Shoestring: Inside the Gangs of El Salvador” (in Spanish, “La mafia de pobres que desangra a El Salvador”), was the product of a pilot project from The Times in its attempt to expand its international coverage by collaborating with a foreign media outlet, according to the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR).

During the 7-month-long investigation, Salvadoran journalists carried out the fieldwork, interviews and text of the report in coordination with and under the supervision of investigative journalist Deborah Sontag and editor Paul Fishleder of The Times, according to CJR.

The report, published on the front page of The Times’ Monday print edition and on both outlets’ sites, demystifies the lucrative and solvent nature of the gangs operating in El Salvador.

“Gangs have not needed to become sophisticated criminal structures to crush the country. Calculations based on official figures lead to the conclusion that the millions these organizations have accumulated with their criminal activity are not enough to feed all its members, reads the introduction to the report.

For the investigation, El Faro compiled strong testimonies from sources within the gangs and their elites, as well as from their victims. It also drew from official documents that are difficult to access in the country.

Journalists Efren Lemus and brothers Óscar and Carlos Martínez of El Faro’s investigative unit, Sala Negra, participated in the project.

The Sala Negra team started with six members in 2011. They often use chronicles and longform to tell their stories. The principal topic for the team is violence and gangs in El Salvador and Central America.

According to CJR, the Sala Negra reporters found it a bit difficult to adapt to The Times’ inverted pyramid structure. Accustomed to crónicas, a kind of long-form journalism that borrows from the Latin American literary tradition, the journalists had to abbreviate the narration of certain scenes and find more direct ways of providing context and background for the story at hand, according to CJR.

“So far our model has been to trust the instinct of each journalist for how to tell his story,” El Faro director José Luis Sanz said to CJR.

El Faro and its members have received various awards this year acknowledging their journalistic work.

The entire team at El Faro received the Gabriel García Márquez Award for Excellence in September 2016, the first time an entire team of journalists was given the prize.

Óscar Martínez, co-founder of Sala Negra, received the International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on Nov. 22 in New York City, as recognition for the courage and professionalism displayed in his work.

In his speech to accept the award, Martínez mentioned a witness named Consuelo who was to the key to an investigative piece on a mass police killing that contradicted official accounts.

“Covering these issues is a painful exercise. Frustrating. And it will continue being so. It puts us at risk and our families at home will suffer this burden,” Martínez said. “But we don’t owe this work to ourselves alone in this room. We owe it to people like Consuelo. This maddening job offers us the possibility that the truth of a poor farmer can trump the truth of a lying government.”

Additionally, for his outstanding journalistic coverage of the Americas, Martínez also won the Maria Moors Cabot Award, one of the most important recognitions for international journalism in the world.

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.