Responsible Journalism, Mexico and Getting Real

Facts can sometimes be hard to decipher in our hyper-frenzied media culture. Take Mexico for example. We of course know about the escalation of violence over the last few years in which President Felipe Calderon has asserted a tightening grip on the country’s drug cartels.

But let’s be honest - the drug-related violence has been overplayed in US media. Put another way– the US population has been flooded with negative images of Mexico over the last few years. What has been sacrificed during this period is more pronounced analysis of Mexico as a rising economic power; its growing influence as a center of excellence for IT and BPO; and the increasing expansion of the country’s middle class.

I’m not necessarily ‘blaming’ the media for its overt focus on crime and violence. But what is troubling is the lack of context around which the information is consumed, and the lack of a dialogue around such issues that enables the web visitor, newspaper reader or CNN-watcher to put such disturbing trends into a larger, more grounded perspective.

This reminds me of a chat I had with Gartner analyst Ian Marriott last year – who every year puts together Gartner’s list of top 30 outsourcing destinations around the world (Mexico joined Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica and Panama on the list released last December.)

Marriott, a student of global macro-economics and geopolitical issues, said bluntly that what is going on in Mexico now just as easily could take shape in another emerging economy, such as Thailand, India or Malaysia. The manifestations of the disruptions may vary from country to country, but his point was simple: understand that emerging markets go through growing pains and that fixating on just one aspect of a country’s challenges is a huge miscalculation.

Clearly, the end-consumer – especially those exploring business or commercial ties to an emerging market – have to take responsibility for gathering appropriate and sound information from trusted sources. At the same time, I believe strongly that press and media organization have a responsibility to question prevailing assumptions in an effort to paint a more complete, realistic picture.

That’s why USA Today should be applauded for its comprehensive analysis of Mexico, published as part of a special series last week. Editors and writers at the journal decided to take a contrarian approach to prevailing belief about Mexico – for example, poking gaping holes in claims that violence along the US-Mexico border is ‘spilling into’ the US. In fact, as the paper pointed out, violence in the US along the border has dramatically declined over the last several years.

While politicians stoke fears that the US is being overwhelmed by violence coming from Mexico, the facts support the exact opposition conclusion. Either these politicians are deliberately fear-mongering, or they are deeply ignorant of what’s really going on.

In a media culture driven by the constant desire to ‘rush to judgment’ it becomes imperative for the end user to take a step back and take the approach of: read and consume with caution.