Shooting of Mexican photographers adds new urgency to journalist gathering on drug trafficking and organized crime

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  • September 17, 2010

By Dean Graber

News that a 21-year-old photography intern was shot to death Thursday in Ciudad Juárez, and that his 18-year-old colleague was wounded, increased the sense of urgency for members of 40 journalist training and safety organizations who gathered in Austin, Texas, Friday and Saturday (Sept. 17–18) for the 8th Austin Forum on Journalism in the Americas. The annual gathering focuses this year on the coverage of drug trafficking and organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The Austin Forum is conducted by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas at Austin and the Open Society Foundations programs on Latin America and media.

The discussions focus on drug trafficking and organized crime as a complex, global phenomenon that has grown throughout the Americas. However, the dangers to journalists in Mexico were underlined by Thursday’s shootings of two photographic interns for Ciudad Juárez’s largest newspaper, Diario de Juárez.

Luis Carlos Santiago, 21, was pronounced dead after the two were shot in a car outside a local shopping mall. He had worked at the newspaper for about six months. Fellow intern Carlos Manuel Sánchez was shot four times and hospitalized.

The Chihuahua attorney general’s office was exploring whether the pair was driving in a borrowed car belonged to a human rights activist who may have been the intended target, CNN reported. Eight Mexican journalists have been killed in Mexico this year, not counting Thursday's killing.

One of Friday’s Austin Forum panelists, Spanish journalist Judith Torrea, who is based in Ciudad Juárez, learned of the attack on the photographers Thursday through a cell-phone message she received while traveling to the meeting in Austin. Her first reaction was to call a photojournalist colleague at the Diario de Juárez. “But I dare not,” she wrote on her blog. “ I don’t dare call, and him not answer me, or I call and he tells me he is photographing the cadaver of his colleague.”

Torrea and Mexican journalist Marcela Turati were two of Friday's panelists who addressed issues of covering Mexico's drug war, and how to help journalists.

Turati’s organization, the On-the-Ground Journalists Network (Red de Periodistas de a Pie), participated in unprecedented demonstrations in August against violent attacks on journalists. Mexican journalists have become war correspondents in their own country, she said.

For more information about the Austin Forum, see this Knight Center story, and the Austin Forum Twitter feed.

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.