Mexico Is the Deadliest Country for Journalists, but That’s Not Stopping These Students

Whether by drug cartels or corrupt politicians, journalists in Mexico are regularly threatened or killed for doing their job. Five students tell us why they’ve still chosen to study journalism and why they won’t stop fighting for freedom of the press.

by Ollin Velasco; illustrated by Mauricio Santos; translated by Julie Schwietert Collazo
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Sep 7 2018, 4:20pm

This article originally appeared on VICE en Español.

If you’re a journalist in Mexico, you run the daily risk of not coming home at the end of the day. According to Reporters Without Borders, Mexico was the deadliest non-war country for reporters in 2017 and 2016 alike (it’s often compared to Syria, where a civil war was declared in 2011). Twelve Mexican journalists were murdered in 2017 alone, and 118 journalists have been killed over the last 18 years.

Those statistics notwithstanding, young Mexicans are still choosing to study journalism—even if they live outside Mexico City, where the violence is bloodier and the working conditions more deplorable. VICE talked to a few of them: Daniela, a student from the state of Veracruz, where 17 journalists were murdered between 2010 and 2016; and Juan Almodóvar, from Sinaloa—where one year ago journalist Javier Valdez Cárdenas, who was investigating issues related to drug trafficking, was killed. We also talked to Diana from Chihuahua, the Mexican state where journalist Miroslava Breach was murdered in 2017 for investigating institutional and criminal corruption; Karla, from Jalisco, where just a few weeks ago three film students were dissolved in acid; and Marifer, who studies in Tamaulipas, the state where homicides increased by 75 percent during the first quarter of 2018.

Daniela Rojas (20), Veracruz

I’m currently in my second semester in the Communication Sciences at Veracruzana University, and I want to be a journalist. To be honest, the press situation in this region [of Mexico] frequently makes me sad. And it’s no secret: in fact, when I decided that I wanted to dedicate myself to journalism, my mom and dad begged me not to do it. But I was already decided.

Lies have bothered me for as long as I can remember. Because of that, I never doubted my choice of vocation. There’s so many things that powerful people are hiding from us right now, and that makes me angry—it makes us all angry, I think. I’d love to be able to bring murky things to light; the things we should all be aware of. I really like investigative work, but I also know I want to focus on crime reporting. I need to find a way to brace myself for whatever the future holds. Adrenaline is my passion, and I accept the risk of that.

Juan Jesús Almodóvar (20), Sinaloa

I don't like that when I tell people I was born in Culiacán, Sinaloa, they immediately ask about the city's levels of violence and insecurity. For the same reason, I dislike it even more that—when I mention I'm starting my career in journalism at a local radio station—everyone raises their eyebrows and asks me if I'm sure I want to keep doing it.

I’m currently studying for a degree in journalism at the Autonomous University of Sinaloa (UAS), and in two semesters I've already had time to question myself on whether or not I chose well. I'm still convinced [of my choice]: despite everything and the threats to the [industry] that are becoming more frequent, I want to dedicate myself to this. I'm very passionate about it.

Drug trafficking may have taken over a large part of our lives, but there will always be people who want to do something to change that. What infuriates me is that, in the end, the real activists always end up being killed or disappeared, and they’re the ones who risk publishing what no one else dares to. Why does it have to be like this when there’s supposed to be “freedom of expression”?

The truth is, [hard news] isn’t my thing. The type of journalism I want to do forever is sports. I don’t want to cover violence, drug trafficking, or mothers who look for their children in mass graves. I want to report on soccer, baseball, or football.

I believe that the nobility of a journalist's work lies in communicating with responsibility and professionalism, no matter what the story is. I really enjoy every chance I get to work at the radio station and talk about sports. It feels good to tell people that the world isn’t [characterized by] pure misfortune, and that good things happen too.

Diana Estefanía Chaparro (19), Chihuahua

When I wanted to be a chef, my mom was fine with it. When I told her that I'd changed my mind and that I was going to study journalism, she was livid. She begged me countless times not to do it—I’ve literally lost count. But my mind was made up.

I didn’t continue with gastronomy because the coursework here in Chihuahua is particularly expensive, and it was difficult for my mom to afford it. One day, when I was talking with one of my cousins about it, I said that if there’s something I’m good at, it’s talking. And then he suggested that I study Communication Sciences. I did that for a semester, but my classmates were partiers and I’m not into partying. I decided to check out the journalism program at the Autonomous University of Chihuahua (UACH). I was convinced, and when the next semester came I was already enrolled.

I’m currently in my second semester, I’m 19 years old, and I’m really proud of my decision. Being a journalist in Chihuahua is very dangerous. The violence has intensified lately, and a lot of people have been killed. But I think it’s a necessary profession, because [the government] lies to us a lot, and we need to tell the truth.

It helps a lot that I like to ask questions, because it’s beneficial to my work. I don’t like being cooped up or spending all day in front of a computer. I like action. I want to report on crime and policy issues. Fortunately, I’m not scared of blood. What scares me—and enrages me—is that too often, the cost of information is our very lives.

Karla Martínez (19), Jalisco

Am I a bit scared to devote myself to this profession? I’ll admit that yes, a little. From what I can tell, it seems like covering reality today is an act that defies common sense.

I’m studying journalism at the University of Guadalajara (UdeG). The campus is in Ocotlán and my house is in Guadalajara, about an hour and a half away, so I rent a room near the university between Monday and Friday to avoid the daily commute on public transport. My parents make a great effort to pay my expenses, and one way to thank them is to study hard and learn how to do real journalism.

We can’t close our eyes to the fact that we’ve lost so many brave journalists in this administration and in the past two administrations. That discourages anyone, understandably. But I also believe that now, more than ever, surrendering isn’t an option. We all need to contribute something, even if it’s just a bit, so that things improve. If not, who’s going to do it for us?

My ultimate dream is to do high-impact investigative work and get the politicians’ dirty laundry out into the sunlight. And even if I’m paralyzed by fear sometimes, I always reassure myself with the thought that there’s millions of people who want things in this country to change. Whenever I think that, I’m excited to know I’m able to contribute my grain of sand. No one wants to see their country sink.

Marifer Lattuada (20), Nuevo León

I never consciously wanted to dedicate my life to journalism until the day I snuck into my recently deceased grandfather’s office. He was one of the most famous journalists in the city of Tampico, Tamaulipas, and founded a cultural magazine that practically died at the same time as him.

Something inside me changed that day. For the first time, I was surrounded by his walls, which were covered with awards and newspaper clippings. I would’ve been about seven years old back then, and that visit to my grandfather’s secret room transformed me into an unwitting disciple [of journalism]. My mom says that I started playing like I was a correspondent for Javier Alatorre [a famous Mexican TV news presenter].

Time passed. I was educated in Jesuit schools, and today, in my 20s, I think choosing to study Multimedia Journalism at the Autonomous University of Nuevo Leon (UANL) is one of the things I’m most proud of.

Although reality and my own family constantly remind me that I’ve chosen a high risk career, I’m not taking my finger off the pulse [of this job]. I volunteered at a shelter for migrants in Mexico City for a year, and I saw journalists and activists helping people. It’s where I learned that information is a powerful weapon.

I want to do citizen journalism so I can help amplify voices that have otherwise been silenced, and I know that this also means I need to fight for the union, which I understand. One of my goals is to help bring an end to censorship, and to ensure that paying for the truth with blood is no longer a reality. I like to think my grandfather would be proud of me.

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This article originally appeared on VICE US.