Inside USD

TBI Opens the Door of Dialogue for Area Media

Friday, February 13, 2009

tbiMirroring headlines, violence in Mexico dominated a roundtable discussion of issues confronting reporters covering the U.S.-Mexico border region.

Reporters from the San Diego Union-Tribune, Los Angeles Times, North County Times, the Associated Press and news outlets from Mexico came together Feb. 11 to discuss pressing issues that drive media coverage of the border region. They discussed bilateral trade agreements, the U.S. and Mexican governments, drinking water, and drug violence during the nearly two-hour annual Media Roundtable hosted by the Trans-Border Institute at the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies.

“The border region is unique and unlike any other beat in U.S. news coverage, in that you have to cover two entirely different political systems in two different languages that have an enormous amount of interaction and incredible complexity, whether it’s immigration or trade or security or the environment,” said David Shirk, USD assistant professor and TBI director. “This forum is one of the few forums where journalists from different news organizations get together to compare notes about how one covers the border region.”

Guest speaker Chappell Lawson, a political professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, discussed the U.S.-Mexico bilateral relationship, immigration and energy, among others. Lawson is heading a project for the Pacific Council on International Policy focusing on U.S.-Mexico affairs.

The issue that drew the most discussion was news coverage of violence in Mexico. Reporters were asked if they felt constrained to write only about stories involving drugs and violence, and if they felt pressure to write more positive stories. Several responded that they would like to do more in-depth stories on other issues, but sometimes can’t because of staff shortages and readership numbers that follow violent stories.

“The fact of the matter of is, as some people discussed, newsrooms are shrinking and border reporters have fewer resources and basically less time and space to cover the broad plethora of issues that are out there on the border, and so it comes down to what are the most urgent, striking and pressing issues,” Shirk said. “And for the last year or two, drug violence in Mexico has led because it is by far the most urgent issue that policymakers are confronting — not the most important necessarily, but it’s certainly the most urgent.”

The TBI will continue the conversation on drug violence in Mexico on Feb. 19. As part of the TBI Justice in Mexico Project and the Los Angeles Times series “Mexico Under Siege,” the panel discussion will feature a group of distinguished academics, journalists and experts who will discuss Mexico’s ongoing struggles against violent drug-trafficking organizations. The event will be held at 7 p.m. at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice Theatre.

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— Denise T. Ward

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