Arts and Culture
1:28 pm
Sat March 12, 2011

Reporting From The Most Dangerous City In The Americas

More than 3,000 people were killed last year in the Mexican border town of Ciduad Juarez. But 98 percent of the families can't afford the $300 required for a funeral, according to Judith Torrea, who describes herself as the only foreign journalist living in Juarez.

Torrea spoke today during a SXSW Interactive panel discussion on how social media is being used to cover the Mexican drug war. The freelance journalist has been covering Juarez for 14 years, and began blogging her reports in 2009.

"I am not afraid. Otherwise, I would not be living in Juarez, but I recognize the danger," she said. "Dead people are the only ones who are not in danger. Juarez is a city at war."

"I fell in love with Juarez," she said, "living life as if it were a fantastic moment that could be over in a flash."

Social media has become an increasingly important medium for distributing information on the drug war, according to David Sasaki, a founder of the social activism site Rising Voices.

"Under threat from Mexican drug cartels, reporters fall silent," Sasaki said. "That has left it to Twitter users and bloggers to report what's going on." He points to the popularity in Mexico of the Twitter hashtag #balacera, which means "shootout" in Spanish.

Sasaki says there's no greater example of the importance of blogs than Blog del Narco, a site maintained by two anonymous computer security experts in Monterey.  The site has attracted controversy because it often steals content from other websites, such as the Facebook profiles of people associated with drug cartels. It has also published materials from drug cartel threatening each other, Sasaki said, leading to accusations that the blog has become an instrument of cartel intimidation.

Traditional reporters don't have the luxury of publishing every rumor they find online, according to Javier Garza, the editorial director of El Siglo de Torreón, one of the largest daily newspapers in Northern Mexico.

"I don't think social media allows us to let our guard down, just because we want to rush in and put something out there," he said. "The probability of being wrong is very high, and right now in Mexico, the consequences of getting things wrong can be pretty hard."

Other sites related to the Mexican drug war:

Propon.mx: crime mapping applications (Spanish)
Juarez.heroreports.org: Reports of good news from Juarez (Spanish)
Blog.diegovalle.net: Analyzing data from the Mexican drug war (English)
Insightcrime.org: News on organized crime in Latin America (English)

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