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Mexican journalists begin online course on drug trafficking coverage

In the wake of increased drug violence and drug trafficking on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas again is offering the online course Coverage of Drug Trafficking for Mexican Journalists.

The course, taught by Colombian journalist Alvaro Sierra who also teaches at the United Nations’ University for Peace in San José, Costa Rica, runs May 31-July 4, 2010. Applications were accepted May 3-16, until 5 p.m. Austin, Texas time.

For more details on this training opportunity, go to the Course Information Sheet.

This is the fourth time the course is being offered, and the second time it is being restricted to Mexican journalists.

“Focusing the course on Mexico allows for a more specific discussion about the gigantic problem of drugs and traffickers confronting the country today,” Sierra said. “In general, the content of the course is similar (to previous courses), but the discussions are different. Additionally, the phenomenon in Mexico has its own characteristics…Not only the phenomenon of drug trafficking, but above all, the situation of journalists. Covering drug trafficking in Mexico today is a complete challenge, and the course can be a tool to help with that.”

Conducted entirely online and in Spanish, the course is intensive, requiring 10-15 hours of work a week. Participants can work online according to their own schedules and at their own pace.

Journalists who participate in the course will take away two central themes, Sierra said. First, that drug trafficking is a completely global problem and that Mexico is just one piece of the puzzle. Second, how to improve coverage so that it’s not just focusing on violence, the deaths and the beheadings, while still protecting oneself.

This latest version of the course comes on the heels of the Knight Center’s special seminar, the McCormick Foundation Specialized Reporting Institute: Cross-border Coverage of U.S.-Mexico Drug Trafficking, held March 26-27, 2010, in Austin. It was the first gathering of this kind with prominent journalists from both sides of the border who specialize in the coverage of the drug violence in Mexico.

“I think the conference in Austin was an extraordinary event, from which came a lot of ideas,” Sierra said. “I, with each course, with each lecture, learn and acquire new elements to incorporate into these courses. One of the great contributions of Austin was to introduce the perspective of the border, from both sides. Without it, it is impossible to understand the drug trade.”

The course is a good opportunity to interact and exchange ideas with other journalists, Sierra said. “We journalists are a guild of individuals, without great solidarity, and ours is a frantic business, lonely without many occasions to sit and think and discuss,” he said. “The main contribution of this course is to open a space for these two things: to discuss the need for protective measures of solidarity, which are much-needed in Mexico (in Colombia it took years of violence to reach the decision to create journalistic organizations that are now trying to protect reporters), and to take five weeks to think and discuss one of the most covered topics but which, in general, the public has a very superficial knowledge of, which is the drug business.”

Sierra, who teaches how to cover armed conflicts at the United Nations’ University for Peace in San José, Costa Rica, is the former editorial page editor for Bogotá's El Tiempo newspaper. He also worked as a correspondent in Russia (1990-1997) and China (1998-2000), gaining extensive experience covering armed conflicts as both a local reporter and a foreign correspondent.

The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas at Austin was launched in 2002 by professor Rosental Calmon Alves. Thanks to generous grants from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the center has assisted thousands of journalists in Latin America and the Caribbean. For more information, contact the Knight Center’s program manager, Jennifer Potter-Miller at jpotterandreu at mail.utexas.edu or +1 512 471-1391.