In the last few months, more than 100 Mexican reporters and editors used the e-learning platform of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas to learn strategies for facing high-risk situations in their day-to-day coverage, due to the widespread violence in their country.
The Knight Center online courses and webinars were organized in association with the North American chapter of the London-based International News Safety Institute (INSI) and the Mexico City-based organization Periodistas de a Pié (“Barefoot Journalists”).
Most of the training sessions were conducted by Mexican journalists who have first-hand experience in the country and by Knight International Journalism Fellow Jorge Luis Sierra, an award-winning Mexican investigative reporter and editor based in Edinburg, Texas.
A total of 109 reporters and editors from Mexico participated in the Knight Center’s four-month training series on “Strategies for Journalists Covering Areas of Risk” that included two courses offered the spring of 2011 and two webinars offered in the fall of 2011.
The courses and webinars went beyond the focus on physical dangers that journalists face in Mexico. They also included information about the psychological effects of living under such risks and highlighted the problems of cyber-security, as many journalists needed to learn about vulnerabilities of their computer communication.
“It was helpful to learn about how to protect my information on computers and how to manage my email accounts (in a protected way),” said a journalist from Chihuahua, Mexico, who took one of the courses. “In my case, I changed my email passwords to make them more secure.”
In the Mexican regions most impacted by the so-called drug wars, where many journalists have been victims of violence, it is important that reporters and editors have some knowledge of safety protocols they can consider adopting.
A journalist from Nuevo Laredo, a border town in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, who took one of the online courses said he adopted safety protocols and now uses them all the time as part of his daily routine. “I use safety protocols when I leave my home to go to work, when I cover information, and even when I am in the street with my family. It does not mean I am obsessed. On the contrary, this is something all citizens should practice. It does not mean that nothing can happen to us, but it reduces the risks,” the journalist said.
The two Knight Center online courses were offered Feb. 20 to March 18 and March 26 to April 22 in collaboration with the North American chapter of INSI and Periodistas de a Pié.
The courses were taught entirely online by scholar and Periodistas de a Pié co-founder Margarita Torres, ICFJ International Knight Fellow Jorge Luis Sierra, specialized therapist Sandra Interiano of El Salvador, and Elia Baltazar, a long-time journalist of 23 years and Freedom of Expression program coordinator for the Center for Journalism and Public Ethics (CEPET in Spanish).
“It has been a very good experience and the exchange of ideas between all participants was also very interesting,” said instructor Margarita Torres. “Although is this space we could not find all the answers, we had interesting discussions and ideas on how to keep moving ahead to do journalist in areas of risk without being, as much as possible, in a situation of danger and without failing in reporting.”
The students accessed the two online courses through the Knight Center’s distance learning platform, which is based on the open source course management system called Moodle. The multimedia platform has been used by the Knight Center since 2003 to train more than 6,000 journalists from Latin America and the Caribbean.
According to Torres, the use of digital technology to offer safety training to journalists in Mexico has proven to be very useful, as “it generates a space for dialogue and for sharing content” that helps journalists in areas of risk. “It is important that instructors and journalists take advantage of digital platforms for courses, training sessions and discussions that help us to practice a better journalism.”
Another instructor of the safety training, psychologist Sandra Interiano, said that journalists in Mexico must remember that mutual concern for coworkers is necessary in today’s climate. “I believe that teamwork and mutual security concern are a first step. If you care for all your coworkers, and they care about you, it increases the natural value of humans, including themselves. This group attitude sends a message: take care of yourself and express your feelings – which is fine, and doesn’t mean weakness or lack of courage. I think editors and journalists should keep in mind that there is no photo or story that is worth most than life,” Interiano said.
The Knight Center plans to offer more training opportunities for Mexican journalists in coming months. Mexico is the world’s most dangerous place for journalists to do their daily job. For more information about the risks Mexican journalists face on a daily basis, see this Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas map of attacks against the Mexican press.