Reporting Across The Border: The Challenges Of U.S.-Mexico Journalism
On January 20, 2006, the journal Foreign Affairs en Español and the Mexico Institute held a conference at the Wilson Center to launch their recent joint publication, Writing Beyond Boundaries: Journalism Across the U.S.-Mexico Border. This conference focused on cross-border coverage of elections and migration and was one of many conferences featuring the book, in cities including Mexico City; Monterrey, Nuevo León (organized with the Graduate School of Public Policy at the Tecnológico de Monterrey); and El Paso, Texas (organized by the Department of Communications at the University of Texas, El Paso). An additional conference focusing on border journalism will be held on April 21st in Tijuana, Baja California, co-organized by El Colegio de la Frontera Norte.
Andrew Selee, director of the Wilson Center's Mexico Institute, observed that journalists play a key role in international affairs as the "eyes and ears" of citizens. In the case of Mexico and the United States, the role of journalists is even more critical, since these two countries are engaged in a rapid process of demographic and economic integration, and policy decisions made in one country often affect the other profoundly. This growing interdependence requires a new kind of journalism that provides context for political decisions, explores the changes going on in the other country's society, and covers the full story of migrant communities.
Rossana Fuentes-Berain, managing editor of Foreign Affairs en Español, acknowledged the obstacles journalists face in covering this relationship, including the lack of resources, the need to accommodate editors who give priority to other parts of the world, and the changing focus in each government's global agenda. However, despite these constraints, she argued that a new type of journalist has emerged. A "NAFTA generation" of journalists is trying to portray the reality of the two countries in a deeper and more nuanced way.
Keynote speaker Phillip Bennett, managing editor of the Washington Post, addressed the challenges of reporting on world affairs in the U.S. press, and emphasized the importance of editors taking more risks in order to cover the world responsibly. The media must hold governments accountable for their political actions as well as inform readers on issues about which they would otherwise be unaware. He pointed out that, as it stands today, coverage of Latin America and Mexico have fallen behind other priorities. One third of the Washington Post's international affairs budget goes towards its coverage in Iraq. As a result, the Post has gone from having five correspondents in Latin America a few years ago to only one today (although this number will increase slightly in the coming months). Bennett stressed that the Post was committed to fuller and better coverage in Latin America and was evaluating creative ways of meeting this challenge. One strategy will be to have a reporter who covers both El Salvador and the Salvadoran community in Washington and is assigned to both the metro and international desks.
The first panel on electoral coverage was chaired by Marcela Sanchez of the Washington Post. New York Times correspondent Julia Preston argued that the upcoming Mexican elections provide a great opportunity and challenge for the U.S. press to drive and create reader interest. One topic of interest is the candidates themselves, who for the first time will be judged based on their experience and history as democratic leaders. Alfredo Corchado, correspondent for the Dallas Morning News, recognized this shift, commenting that while the 2000 elections were about change, the July 2006 elections will be more about issues and policy directions. Dolia Estévez of Poder magazine and Monitor Radio noted that in Mexico there is still limited understanding of how fragmented U.S. politics are. As a result, when Mexicans hear that legislation on such issues as immigration reform is being debated in the U.S. Congress, they have limited understanding of how policy decisions are made or what their effects may be. José Carreño of El Universal challenged his colleagues to find a better balance between reporting on scandals and reporting on substantive issues.
A second panel on journalistic coverage of migrants and migration was chaired by Tamar Jacoby of the Manhattan Institute. In discussing cross-border coverage of migration and migrants, David Brooks of La Jornada called the twentieth century the "century of immigration," in which more people than ever before, all over the world, have left their home countries. Whether the Mexican migration phenomenon is unique or part of a larger pattern, the complex issues surrounding it have challenged journalists covering U.S.-Mexico relations. NPR's Claudio Sanchez spoke of the evolution of demographic shifts throughout history, emphasizing the problems of U.S. public opinion and generational issues for immigrant youth. Televisa's Gregorio Meraz, in turn, noted immigrants' poor living conditions and the refusal of the public to recognize their contribution to the U.S. economy. Jerry Kammer of Copley News Service added that opportunities for upward mobility are disappearing for today's immigrants, as compared to those of previous generations.
Reforma correspondent José Díaz Briceño noted that typical Mexican press coverage does not include positive stories about immigrants' success, which he attributed to class issues in Mexico City. He called for more education and training of journalists, who should understand and capture the complexity of issues such as the macroeconomic effects of migration. Armando Guzmán of TV Azteca and Azteca Americas pointed to the visibility of laborers looking for work as a key story with resonance in areas of new immigration in the United States. As a journalist who works for television in both countries, he also noted the different ways that stories on migration need to be marketed to Mexican audiences in the United States and Mexico. While some panelists were optimistic about improved recent press coverage, they also expressed concern about the lack of resources available to cover issues in an in-depth manner, especially when breaking news often trumps coverage of other immigration issues.
Phillip Bennett's Keynote Address: "The Challenges of Reporting on World Affairs"