With his rimless glasses and thoughtful manner, Javier Garza Ramos fits the image of an editor of any major daily in the Spanish-speaking world. His newspaper, El Siglo de Torreon, in Coahuila state, is under siege. On Feb. 5, gunmen kidnapped five employees and held them for several hours in what Garza called a message of intimidation.
Later the same month, assailants fired at a police patrol posted outside the newspaper. They did so again two days later.
While Garzas newspaper largely publishes crime news only on inside pages, he thinks gangsters blame El Siglo for detailing criminal mayhem in such a fashion as to win the attention of authorities in Mexico City. Using a peculiar logic, they blame the media rather than their own actions, he said.
Those who draw attention or who in our lingo heat up the plaza are not the criminals with their gunfights, killings and kidnappings. Rather it is the news media that report on the gunfights and killings, Garza said.
In other areas of Mexico, media outlets struggle with how to cover rampant crime, sometimes practicing self-censorship or choosing words and selecting photographs carefully.
The publisher of Saltillos Vanguardia newspaper, Armando Castilla, said his paper no longer mentions names of criminal groups.
Were not interested in serving as a scoreboard for them, Castilla said.
Nor does the paper print details of the banners that rival crime groups hang, lambasting their rivals. If we publish for one side, the other side will want us to publish theirs, too.
If gangsters dont kill journalists, they take them for a terrifying ride.
On Jan. 26, assailants intercepted the director of El Mundo, a newspaper in Cordoba in Veracruz state, shoved him into an SUV, tied him up and harassed him for five hours, threatening his family. After he was let go, he remained incapacitated for three weeks, a nervous wreck.
Most such abductions are kept secret. Fernandez, the El Guardian columnist who was summoned from his newsroom, said his abduction occurred in 2011, but he only worked up the courage to discuss it this year.
Some flee their jobs and their states or leave Mexico altogether.
Thirty journalists have gone into internal exile, said Balbina Flores, Mexico representative for Reporters without Borders, an advocacy group based in Paris. Separately, 15 journalists have left the country, she added, three of them since Mexicos current president, Enrique Pena Nieto, assumed office Dec. 1.
None of Mexicos 31 states suffers from a news blackout quite like Tamaulipas, which shares a border with Texas. Organized crime dominates the states politics and its media.
An editor at a newspaper there said gangsters of the Gulf Cartel, one of many major criminal syndicates in Mexico, have confederates in nearly every newsroom.
The editor, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of losing his life, said a U.S. journalist once queried why he would avoid writing about the mobsters grip.
He said, Why do you cover up drug trafficking? I said, Look amigo, do you think I dont want to write about where the narco women buy their jewelry? They know where you live, how you move about. If they want to get you, theyll do it in seconds, the editor said.