Journalism in the Public Interest

Mexico’s Regional Newspapers Limit Reporting of Cartels’ Role in Drug Violence

Mexico’s regional newspapers, the source of news for many in the country, downplay the role of drug cartels in assassinations and other attacks on civil authorities. Many papers don’t even cover all the drug-linked executions in their localities. 


Mexican journalists protest against violence toward journalists on Aug. 7, 2010, in Mexico City. The placard reads, 'I Hate Silence.' (Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images)

Mexico's regional newspapers are failing to report many of the murders, attacks on police and other violence linked to the nation's war against drug cartels, a new analysis shows.

The Fundación MEPI, an independent investigative journalism center, studied the crime coverage of 11 regional newspapers and found that the drug-trafficking cartels receive little mention. The data, and interviews with journalists, shows that threats, bribery and pressure are shaping the news delivered to hundreds of thousands of Mexicans who live outside the capital, Mexico City.

Regional journalists told MEPI they routinely do not report the role of the cartels in the mounting violence. They said that with the central government unable to protect prosecutors and police, they feel forced to chose between personal safety and professional ethics.

In recent years, the Mexican and international press have reported anecdotally on the intimidation of Mexican reporters. But MEPI's story provides the first quantitative picture of the problem.

The group assembled a list of execution-style murders tied to the cartels by credible national media and then compared it to the coverage in regional papers. (Mexico's national government declines to release such statistics.)

MEPI found that in almost every region, the number of stories each month that mentioned cartel violence amounted to a tiny fraction of the execution-style slayings tied to the cartels.

Click to see MEPI's map of the impact of drug violence in news coverage.

Click to see MEPI's map of the impact of drug violence in news coverage.

In Ciudad Juárez, for example, cartel gunmen were reported to have killed an estimated 300 people each month in 2010. But in the first six months of this year, the newspaper El Norte, a reputable daily, mentioned the drug organizations in fewer than 30 stories monthly, according to the MEPI analysis.

Alfredo Quijano, editor of El Norte agreed that his newspaper is very careful about how it addresses stories about violence. "Our stories are simpler today. We don´t do any follow up beyond one day."

Dailies in eastern Mexico reported even less about the cartels. In the border town of Nuevo Laredo, just across the border from Texas the MEPI study found that the daily El Mañana published three stories referring to drug trafficking last June. That month, 98 people died in what appear to be cartel-related murders, according to the MEPI analysis.

In total, the daily, published only 15 stories related to drug trafficking the first six months of 2010. Fourteen of those were about drug seizures on the U.S. side of the border in the city of Laredo.

MEPI said it interviewed reporters and editors at regional newspapers to put the findings of the content analysis in context. All spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they feared retribution against themselves and their families.

Several journalists were quoted as saying cartel members decide which stories can appear on front pages. In Tamaulipas, the drug bosses summon reporters to quarterly and monthly meetings to tell them what to cover, journalists told MEPI.

In Veracruz, a daily that attempted to write tenaciously about drug issues had one of its reporters kidnapped as a warning and then released. The newspaper today reports little about drug violence, MEPI's analysis found.

MEPI reviewed crime stories published during the first half of 2010 in the following newspapers: El Noroeste (Culiacán), El Norte (Ciudad Juárez), Norte (Monterrey), El Dictamen (Veracruz), Mural (Guadalajara), Pulso (San Luis Potosí), El Mañana (Nuevo Laredo), El Diario de Morelos (in Morelos), El Imparcial, (Hermosillo) and the newspaper Milenio's national and Hidalgo editions. The group counted stories in each publication that used Spanish words to describe drug war incidents: "narcotráfico," "comando armado," "cuerno de chivo" (literally, "horn of the goat," a popular nickname for AK-47 automatic rifles) and so on.

The analysis found that newspapers have continued to fill their pages with stories on crime. But in paper after paper, gangland-style executions went uncovered while reporters filed stories on minor crimes not related to the drug conflict.

For example, Matamoros and other regions of the northern state of Tamaulipas are at the center of the battle for control between the Gulf Cartel and their one-time enforcers, the Zetas. Killings are routine, but none of the incidents are described in the pages of local papers, MEPI said.

MEPI recounted the story of a new church in the city of Pachuca, Hidalgo, about an hour's drive from Mexico City.

The building was paid for by Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, a local resident whose name was engraved on a metal plaque tucked away behind an interior wall. In Mexico, Lazcano is known "El Lazca." U.S. authorities have identified Lazcano as the leader of the Zetas, one-time enforcers for the so-called Gulf Cartel who are now a feared drug gang in their own right. Lazcano has been charged with drug trafficking in the United States and American authorities have offered $5 million for information leading to his arrest.

Lazcano's gift to the church was widely known in Pachuca, Hidalgo, a traditional mining region, but it was not reported by the press until last month, when the Mexico City newspaper La Razón splashed the news on its front page, complete with pictures of the orange church and the plaque.

A reason for the silence of the local press, MEPI said, might be found in what happened this year on Valentine's Day.

A few weeks earlier, mysterious letters were delivered to local reporters in various smaller towns surrounding the capital of Pachuca. The letters invited reporters, free-lancers who typically earn $400 a month, to a party at the ranch Santa Inez, in Tepeji del Río, a local town.

A reporter from the Valle del Mezquital who did not attend the party relayed an account he told MEPI he had heard from two colleagues. "Someone stopped the music and told those present everything was for them: the women, the alcohol, the gifts."

The only condition: do not interfere with business.

Soon after Valentine's Day, reporting on drug-related violence in Hidalgo plummeted, according to the MEPI story. Nobody ever wrote about the party or the message to reporters.

Inform our investigations: Do you have information or expertise relevant to this story? Help us and journalists around the country by sharing your stories and experiences.

Kind of like the way our Main Stream Media (MSM) pretty much ignored the ICMB (maybe from China) that was launched off the coast of California


how the MSM is happy to call people “extremists” if they think the “government” is keeping us informed of such things as 911, JFK, RFK, MLK, and the rest of the “conspiracies” that are REAL!

Ciudad Juarez newspaper mentioned in this report is NORTE they are citing EL NORTE, which is Monterrey’s paper… colossal mistake if Grupo Reforma finds out. MPEI inverted the names. A very careless mistake!

Hey, cover the Drug Traffic Bosses and die, or cover just minor crime and live? Simple choice!

Maurice Rogers

Nov. 17, 2010, 4:10 p.m.

Of course they downplay the cartel violence—look at how many newspaper reporters and editors have been murdered by the cartels.  They certainly aren’t being courageous, but I don’t think we should judge them too harshly.

All you folks need to do is watch Telemundo TV, because they on a daily basis report narcotraficantes activities and attacks actually showing the bodies, heads rolling. You also failed to report the death of town mayors and the killing of journalists. Get the real news by getting some one to watch and translate for you. Perhaps reading the online papers, El Mundo, las Americas, la Nación and El País etc.  If the local news can’t publish the violence because of obvious reasons, the national news does. Telemundo is doing an ongoing coverage of the narco related violence, e.g., the killings of children, women and attacking entire towns to empty them out of people.

Pedro de Alvarado

Nov. 17, 2010, 4:19 p.m.

The US War on Drugs is the real issue here.
It does not work, it hasn´t worked and it will not work.

We would applaud it if ProPublica would do some serious research on the latest findings of the efectivenes of the “war on drugs”.

Are ProPublica Journalists killed because they do reporting?
NO. Not as far as I know.

Journalists in Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras are killed because they do report on transnational narco activity.

Does reporting improve the problem of drug trafficking??
How many poeple have to be killed by this sensless war.

and how is the CIA involved?

Maybe why the “cover-up”, as happened with other CIA misdoings.

Then of course the elephant in the room is the market, every time some one in the US lights up, shoots up, sniffs up, swallows up, the demand continues and the production continues.

The cartels are so in control that they attack people who are trying to stop taking drugs in their rehab clinics. Kids who try to leave the gangs are also killed. People live in fear, while their “friends” north of the frontier can feel good. We wash your toilets, take care of your babies, service your lust, keep your lawns, wash your cars and now we are dying for you. Give us break, stop taking drugs.

Grant you, that closing the Mexican connection will not stop drugs from other parts of the world from coming into the US, however, the proximity of Mexico makes the innocent more vulnerable to terror and abuse since it isn’t only drugs that are smuggled in.
Nacrotraficantes also work with the cayotes with the moving and selling of young girls for prostitution.

I am just amazed that a country that can develop sophisticated spy systems and war technology can’t stop this cancer from spreading. Well, actually, my bad. These clowns still can’t find Osama while blowing up Afghanistan, what makes me think they can defeat these gangsters.


Nov. 17, 2010, 6:02 p.m.

I’m an expat living in Sonora, one of the Northern states of Mexico. Before moving there I made [what I thought to be] a thorough investigation of the situation,  reading every news reports I could find on the Web. I came to the conclusion the region was pretty safe and decided to make the move.  I recently became aware of gaps in the news coverage, first locally, then nationally -and I felt tricked. Having known what I know now, I would have made other choices. The causes of the misinformation are multiple:

Reporters who fear for their lives.

Trapped populations who -to make it bearable- live in some kind of denial. 

Politicians/business people who want to keep attracting foreign investors and keep the tourism industry alive.

And a government who doesn’t want to lose face.

I accept the first two. I resent the latters.


No one should expect a reporter/journalist to expose themselves & families to the threat of having their genitals removed, stuffed into their mouth and then being beheaded.

Hey, cheyennebode

Calm down stop screaming and take your meds. Your proposal of invasion and suppression is no better than what is going on now.

I live close enough to El Paso to know the violence by the drug cartel is both real and extreme. But until Mexico becomes serious about taking care of ITS problem, and its pipsqueak, comic opera el presidente stops taking cartel money while trying to tell the United States what it’s doing wrong, the problem will not even begin to slow down. Meanwhile, journalists who write about the violence and cops and judges who attempt to enforce the law have become targets. Obama could help, but he won’t because he sees all Mexicans as potential Democrats.

That’s President Obama… whether you like it or not. This problem occurred before 2008, who should have helped then????????

shaking in my boots

Nov. 18, 2010, 10:51 a.m.

test email

You would do nothing different in their circumstances, and you know it. That those circumstances might move north is by no means impossible, given the enormous power of drug money, fostered by the self-righteous American “War on Drugs” that probably costs more in damaged lives and wasted taxes than all the military wars we’ve ever fought.

Prohibition never has worked, and never will, except in that it fosters very long and lucrative political careers, and the holiness of its civilian bulwaks, who clearly thrive from it as well. It will never stop being a ash cow until it’s revoked.

no free speech in Mexico, sad

Nov. 18, 2010, 12:31 p.m.

there is a consistent reporter who publishes what’s not available on Mexico’s mainstream media, it’s called ... the author receives raw photos and videos from various anonymous sources, for obvious personal safety reasons…some are graphic and not for the squeamish…Newsweek magazine wrote about blog del narco in Oct. 2010 saying the blogger resides in northern Mexico..

Gee, I thought Minnesota winters were bad! I count my blessings!

The real issue here is the absurd, and un-denounced war on drugs. We journalists should be writing more about what a non-sense it is and less about anything else. I can only imagine howfuture generations will mock us when they see we spent 60 years (so far) in this ridiculous war.

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