Tiny Mexican newspaper leads the fight for truth amid the drugs war
Río Doce has to steer a fine line when reporting the drugs war - unearthing the truth without prompting revenge
The ambush of a young man in his white Ferrari never looked like a run-of-the-mill murder. The arrival of a second group of gunmen to retrieve the body and the car, as police and reporters looked on, rammed home the point. The silence that followed made it crystal clear.
As far as the authorities and the local daily papers were concerned nothing happened that night in Culiacán, the capital of the Pacific coast state of Sinaloa and bastion of the Sinaloa cartel. As far as the tiny investigative local weekly Río Doce was concerned, it was time to get to work.
“It was just not right that they said nothing,” says Ismael Bojórquez, the newspaper’s editor. “People have a right to know what is going on.”
Run on a shoestring from a few rooms above a dentist’s office in Culiacán, Río Doce is one of the last redoubts of investigative journalism on the frontline of Mexico’s drug wars that have killed more than 50,000 people since President Felipe Calderón launched his crackdown on organised crime five years ago.
The deaths or disappearance of more than 40 journalists, probably because of their work in this period, together with the direct and indirect threats that abound in all the main hotspots, mean most regional media limit their coverage to superficial reporting of violent events and arrests. Often they only do that when there is an official statement to quote. In some areas, particularly where the Zetas cartel is strong, a near news blackout reigns.
Río Doce’s willingness to go further than other local papers is not, however, foolhardy bravery. Covering the dynamics of the conflict in Sinaloa, and staying alive, requires a subtlety illustrated in the case of the 2010 sports car murder.
The assigned reporter first ruled out initial information that the missing body was Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán – the leader of the Sinaloa cartel and the most famous of Mexico’s many kingpins. He then confirmed the victim was the son of a Chapo ally from Michoacán state, nicknamed El Animal. He also delved into El Animal’s bloodthirsty reputation.
With this in mind the story, which appeared without a byline, focused on the official information vacuum, slipping in the key facts almost by the by. It named the victim but did not mention his father or the Chapo link. The comments posted underneath the piece on the internet filled in the blanks – Mexico’s version of open journalism at work.
Even Río Doce’s rivals are lavish in their praise. “What they do is a lighthouse in the ocean for us all,” says Marco Santos, news editor of the local daily Noroeste.
Pictured: Violence against journalists prompts a protest in Tijuana. Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission says at least 60 journalists have been killed in the drug wars. Photograph: Guillermo Arias/AP