Sandra Rodríguez Nieto and Rocío Gallegos Rodríguez are two of many reporters in Ciudad Juárez that weren’t prepared to cover what was known as one of the most dangerous places in the world for a journalist.
There have been more than 70 media workers killed in Mexico since 1994, according to data from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Among those murdered were two of Rodriguez and Gallegos co-workers at El Diario de Juárez – reporter Armando Rodríguez Carreón and photographer Luis Carlos Santiago Orozco.
“Journalists in Mexico have paid a very high price in telling the truth,” Gallegos said. “The death of Armando was the hardest.”
As journalists there is always a risk, Gallegos said. “We began to remove the curtains of the murderers,” Gallegos said. She said reporting and revealing what was happening around Juárez was an adrenaline rush. She said the good part about being a journalist is the ability to tell what happened.
“The hardest part about being a journalist is becoming the victim,” Gallegos said.
But that wasn’t an option for both Rodríguez and Gallegos. They made a commitment to journalism and to themselves to uncover the truth. “It’s important to stay committed to yourself,” Rodríguez said.
At 17, Rodríguez began her career with the newspaper. Prior to her role as investigative reporter, her focus was urbanization of the city. As the violence increased, she said she couldn’t think of anything else, but to expose the realities of Juárez It was her duty to report on the corruption, the innocent victims, the violent deaths, murders, kidnappings, military involvement, lack of politician interest, and the fear of the people.
“When you have such a big story in your town you don’t think, you just get over it (death threats),” Rodríguez said.
To protect the staff at the newspaper local news stories print without a byline. Mexico is rated eighth in the impunity index, with 15 unsolved cases of murdered journalists, according to the CPJ database.
Both women are “still working and putting their life at risk,” said David Cuillier, Director of UA School of Journalism, during the Oct. 11 panel titled, “Journalists Under Fire: Censorship and Coercion along the Mexican Border.” Rodríguez and Gallegos shared their expertise on the panel, and fielded questions from aspiring journalism students.
They were also in Tucson to receive the John Peter and Anna Catherine Zenger Awards. Since 1954, the UA School of Journalism has awarded a dedicated journalist “who would fight for freedom of the press and the people’s right to know.” This year both women and the investigative reporting team at El Diario were awarded.
Gallegos said she is honored to have received the award. But to her there is more to the accolade. “The truth is that I don’t look to get an award when I’m out working on a story,” Gallegos said. “For me now, this means to continue the struggle and keep on fighting for this. It’s an honor to receive a Zenger award, especially what the award represents.”
Rodríguez put her life on the line for her reporting, and she is thankful it was all worth it, she said.
“I personally see it (the Zenger Award) as an inspiration that recognizes the degree of compromise… this makes me look back at critical years where no one paid attention to us (Juárez)… There are seldom times in the world where there is justice, and not often in the world of journalism is there recognition. Its sacrificed work,” Rodríguez said. “To have this type of recognition is recognizing that compromise awards and that passion for your work makes a difference.”
Once the corruption and violence exploded there was no other option then to cover it, said Rodríguez. “The natural answer is ‘it’s our job,’” Rodríguez said. “We weren’t trained for this at all.”