Is Mexico’s drug violence scaring off the next generation of journalists?

Grenades have exploded in newspaper offices. Reporters have been kidnapped and murdered, sometimes dismembered and stuffed into garbage bags. Several journalists have fled Mexico for their safety.

It’s not exactly a selling atmosphere for Mexican journalists, especially those in school who could opt to study business or technology instead of a craft that has become one of the most dangerous in the world when practiced in Mexico.

Journalism in Mexico was once under threat by the political dynasty that controlled the country during the 20th century, and the job has scant prestige or pay, but today it is bloodthirsty drug traffickers and corrupt officials that are the menace. And now journalism schools are battling to keep the “fourth estate” alive, while students reconsider the fashion or sports beat in lieu of hard news, and others forgo the journalism profession altogether.

Some schools have even closed down their programs because not enough students are enrolling.

“To recuperate a sense of journalism of quality and ethics is harder and harder each day,” says Maricarmen Fernández Chapou, who teaches journalism at the Tecnologico de Monterrey Mexico City campus and directed the program until last year.

‘The biggest battle’

Mexico has become one of the most dangerous places to practice journalism in the world. TheCommittee to Protect Journalists counts 69 journalists or media workers killed since 1992 – some were clearly targeted due to their profession, but in other cases the motive was unclear, but it is possible they were killed for their journalism work. Mexico’s human rights commission’s numbers are even higher: As of July they recorded 81 journalists killed since 2000. The death toll has mounted since 2006, when Mexican President Felipe Calderon took office and drug-related homicide began to skyrocket.  

Amid the violence, reporters, many of them woefully underpaid and unsupported by their news organizations, began to leave bylines off of their stories. Then, many began not to cover the news at all. Mexico dropped in 2011 press rankings from “partly free” to “not free,” according to Freedom House.

“The biggest battle we are fighting is self-censorship,” says Ricardo Gonzalez, who heads the Mexico chapter of Article 19, a freedom of expression organization.

‘You put your life in danger’

The journalism landscape has clouded the outlook of budding journalists. In Ms. Fernandez’s class on a recent day, most of the dozen-some students are studying communications, and those opting for journalism aspire to cover sports and culture. Only Gael Castillo raises his hand when the class is asked who wants a hard news beat.

Mr. Castillo displays the ideals that all professors dream of. On a scholarship at the elite private school, and in his second year, Castillo chose journalism to battle the inequalities and injustices he sees around him daily in his city Nezahualcóyotl, on the outskirts of Mexico City.

When rumors spread last month that drug traffickers had rolled into town, he opened an anonymous Twitter account to warn residents where they should and shouldn’t go, changing the IP address often so no one would identify where he was.

When rumors spread last month that drug traffickers had rolled into town, he opened an anonymous Twitter account to warn residents where they should and shouldn’t go, changing the IP address often so no one would identify where he was.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply