Reporting on the Drug War, a Dangerous Business

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EL PASO — As the drug cartel violence in Ciudad Juárez continues to escalate, the news media on both sides of the border has continued to cover it. But now, the violence has spread to the newsrooms  —getting the story is a job and a danger.

“Poor México, so far away from God, so close to the United States. Poor U.S., so close to México, so far from Mexican reality,” said Ramón Cantú, executive director of El Mañana de Nuevo Laredo, paraphrasing a quote from former Mexican President, Porfirio Díaz, during the recent  “Reporting on the Drug War” conference at University of Texas at El Paso.

Both sides of the border are affected by the violence. People associated with drug cartels have been murdered in El Paso, testimony that the drug war has made its way to the U.S. The quote is relevant, even now; with the way drug violence in México is perceived in the United States.

The “Reporting on the Drug War” panel was one of several panels held at the Drug War conference at UTEP. Cantú, John Burnett, a National Public Radio correspondent, and Alfredo Corchado, a reporter for the Dallas Morning News answered questions from the audience and spoke about their experiences in covering stories about the border. The panel was moderated by Angela Kocherga.

Not only have people associated with the cartels been killed on both sides of the border, but newsrooms have been targeted by cartels that do not agree with how the drug war is being covered. As a result, there has been an effort by the cartels to control the information coming from the media, sometimes going as far as to time murders to happen so that they will be covered the same day on the evening news.

Cantú said that other journalists were sometimes part of the problem, because of the fear of retaliation.

“There is a lack of solidarity in México,” he said. “[The cartels] don’t have to discredit you. They kill you straight out.”

While the violence in Ciudad Juárez is prevalent, there has been criticism, especially from the Mexican side of the border, that the media coverage of the drug war has been mostly negative. As Burnett said that while there is, “a fetish over border security. Reporters have a fetish over conflict. It excites our editor.”

Regardless, there is the effort on the sides of the reporters to avoid what they call, “battle fatigue,” which is covering only the violent happenings in Juárez in an effort to keep the story fresh so that people see Juárez as an individual place and not “one note,” as Burnett said.

While many different stories were told, and viewpoints were expressed, all the reporters in attendance agreed that the drug war conference was a step toward progress to get those points out to the public.

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