Un año de estar entrenando periodistas en Panamá

Ayer cumplí un año de estar entrenando a periodistas en Panamá en el uso de herramientas digitales para investigar casos de crimen y corrupción con ayuda de reporteros ciudadanos. El tiempo se ha pasado muy rápido y el proyecto, auspiciado por el Centro Internacional para Periodistas, el Forum de Periodistas de Panamá y el capítulo panameño de Transparencia Internacional, es más robusto ahora.
Tenemos cerca de 270 reporteros ciudadanos que han enviado sus denuncias a http://www.mipanamatransparente.com. El 52 por ciento de las denuncias son sobre casos de corrupción.
Hemos cubierto todas las provincias de Panamá y,por supuesto la capital. Ahora las investigaciones están en curso y espero que los reportajes de investigación de los periodistas panameños den mucho de qué hablar en América Latina en los próximos meses.


A journalism workshop with mobile technology

From Panamá

Mobile phones are becoming the technology of choice for journalists covering breaking news, and I am sure that reporters from Chiriqui, a border city near Costa Rica, would be eager to learn new tools

Chiriqui, Panama – “Nowadays, journalists can use new technologies to send information right away; in the past, I had to run to get a minibus, reach the telegraph office before it closed, and send my story,” an experienced trainee said during the Mi Panama Transparente workshop in David, Chiriqui, a city at the Panama – Costa Rica border.

We had the opportunity to train 15 journalists from this important border province. One of the main workshop topics was the professional use of new technologies to cover breaking news as they happen.

The trainee words were representative of a trend among journalists already using new technologies and social networks, but still wanting to learn more about how to use them professionally.

In Panama one third of the 3-million population has access to the Internet and 600,000 are on Facebook. But access to mobile phone is much bigger: there are close to 6 million mobile phone accounts in Panama.

From Panamá

This is why I think mobile phones will be a crucial tool for Panamanian journalists. During the workshop, I used my own mobile phone to show the Chiriqui journalists some possible mobile applications.

While journalist Rafael Candanedo was lecturing on new technologies, I took my mobile phone, a Nokia E72, record his conference and broadcast it live via Bambuser, an online platform for live coverage. All interested journalists in Panama and the world can take a look at the conference at any time.

After the Candanedo's presentation, I showed the trainees the videos recorded in Bambuser and the photos I had uploaded in Twitpic. This platform allows you to post pictures on Twitter and, if you have linked both accounts, you can post them simultaneously on Facebook too.

It was the first time some of Chiriqui journalists saw how those platforms work, and they immediately began to think on ways to incorporate them into their everyday work.

Bambuser would be a terrific tool for Chiriqui journalists to take video and share it immediately with their social networks. This platform got a minute of fame after El Comercio's journalist Susana Moran used a Nokia E-71 to report a violent police uprising against Ecuador president Rafael Correa on September 30, 2010.

Moran was in a day off, but she decided to cover the uprising when she was passing by the hospital where president Correa was being treated urgently. She immediately took her mobile phone and began to use Snaptu.com to twit the riots as well as Bambuser to broadcast video. At one point she got trapped in a crossfire and had to hide in a restroom, from where she began to twit her experience.

I hope no Chiriqui journalist is involved in such risky situations, but given the case, at least they know how to use a mobile phone to cover what they hear and see.

Citizens using a crowdsourcing site to report crime and corruption

From Panamá
PANAMA, PANAMA — The individual and his family were getting into a truck, ready to leave the Sumit park. Everything seemed to be normal except for the fact that the truck was marked with the legend ANAM (National Authority of Environment) in a Sunday afternoon, when no official vehicle are supposed to be on the streets for personal purposes.

A citizen who was also taking a rest in the park with his own family saw the scene and took photos. Then, when he had a chance, he sent a report with photos to Mi Panama Transparente, the website we have launched to track crime and corruption in Panama with citizen’s information.

From Panamá

The citizen wrote that he was resting with his family when they saw a ANAM vehicle being used for personal purposes.  "I think it is unfair that they use everybody’s money and resources in their own benefit," he wrote in the report.

From Panamá
From Panamá

It is just one example of the dozens of reports sent by citizens over the last weeks, when Mi Panama Transparente’s website was relaunched and a short code (5638) was activated. People can send anonymous reports via the Internet or text messages about crime or corruption incidents they are either victims or witnesses.

The first reports of the website are about officials increasing bribe fees, patrolmen who don’t buckle up when driving their official vehicles, bars and cantinas selling alcoholic beverages very close to schools, and stash houses in apartment complexes in downtown Panama.

A group of reporters trained by me under the Knight International Journalism Fellowship program is going to investigate some of the incidents, making this the first time the Ushahidi platform is being used by investigative journalists.

Ushahidi, which means testimony in Swahili, is an online crowdsourcing platform that tracks incidents in a digital map. We are tracking crime and corruption with the goal of putting together citizens and journalists who want to reduce crime and corruption and improve the public policies.

Ethics and professionalism don’t stop bullets but reduce risks

From Panamá

Panama — For a brief moment, I felt like being in a Mexico province, not in Colon, at the Caribbean port of entry of the Panama Canal. A TV reporter was speaking about how unsafe it is to cover drug trafficking in Colon because the city is so small, everybody knows you, and journalists are receiving threats, just like Mexican or Colombian reporters.

Over the last few months, Colon journalists have been covering gang activity, drug related murders, drug shipment seizures, drive-by shootings, and other violent incidents that one can commonly see in Mexico, but not in Panama. Violence is now a current issue in this part of the country.


La Prensa ran this Thursday November 4 a good story on drug trafficking in the Colon area by a reporter who is taking the workshops offered by the Knight International Journalism Fellowships program and the Forum of Journalists here in Panama.


From Panamá

The reporter wrote an article about new patterns of drug trafficking in Colon:


“The international narco-cartels have a new kind of operations [in Colon]: they are using locals to set up distribution and custody cells of drug shipments”, wrote the reporter. “This little cells are supporting the drug traffickers with gasoline, meals, housing, and serving them as vigilantes”, said a counter-narcotics officer to the La Prensa’s reporter.


A common problem


During October, I visited David, in the Chiriqui province, border with Costa Rica; Chitre, a beautiful town in Herrera, one of the exuberant Central provinces, and finally Colon, an old city built at the Panama Atlantic side. Flor Ortega, the executive director of the Forum of Journalists, our main partner, and I, organized together three workshops for about 50 journalists, training them in Ethics, investigative journalism, as well as verification and bulletproofing stories methods.


From Panamá

Intelligent and enthusiastic as they are, the provincial journalists exchanged experiences, points of view and tips to produce compelling stories. Most of them share a difficult and uncertain labor condition due to low wages, temporary contracts, and problems to obtain reliable information from public officials. However, another concern arose in all the workshops: how we can cover crime, executions, drug trafficking, gang violence, without sensationalism and with safety.


From Panamá


After those concerns, we decided to make a slight change in the program and opened a discussion about the challenge of cultivating sources in cities affected by drug traffickers, how important it is to have a strong foundation in journalism Ethics, and how crucial other professional values such as balance and verification are in this context.


A main concern is of course safety. A TV reporter from Colon said that a protagonist of a gang story he covered recently is his neighbor: “We are in a city, a province, a Country, that is under a convulsion, whether we want it or not , and for us, correspondents, the smaller the city, the bigger the danger”.

Sometimes, the same reporter said, correspondents have to decide whether they want to be a professional journalist, or just a regular neighbor worried about the proliferation of gangs.


Coming from a country heavily affected by drug trafficking and organized crime is valuable. I used all my experience covering these issues and training Mexican journalists to cover them. I shared that knowledge with my Panamanian colleagues.


There can be many advices, but at the end of the day a simple truth is valid in all contexts: the very first journalist shields are Ethics, professionalism and credibility. These values don’t stop bullets , but significantly reduce the risk of being considered part of the conflict, rather than a journalist simply covering it.

Photo 1: Neir Carrasco, a journalist working as a editor for La Estrella, has been trained as a trainer. She participated as a trainer in the Chitre workshop. (Photo: Jorge Luis Sierra)

Photo 2: Recent drug seizures in Panama. (lnfographic: Daniel González, La Prensa)

Photo 3: Neir Carrasco in front of the Chitre group.  (Photo: Jorge Luis Sierra)

Photo 4: Colon journalists attending the workshop. (Photo: Jorge Luis Sierra)

Amenazas en línea contra periodista mexicano

Jorge Alejandro Medellín

Al agresor le bastaron once palabras para proferir su amenaza de muerte y luego repetirla.

Este nueva hostilidad contra un periodista mexicano fue realizada en la tarde de este domingo 31 de octubre en los comentarios al reportaje de Jorge Alejandro Medellín sobre el general Felipe de Jesús Espitia, ex comandante de la Operación Conjunta Chihuahua, y sujeto de amenazas e intentos de traficantes de drogas para desprestigiarlo con la aseveración de que recibía dinero de bandas rivales.

Medellín, especializado en temas militares, escribe en su artículo publicado en Milenio Semanal:

Al igual que varios generales con mando de tropas en el norte del país, el general Espitia recibió amenazas y fue descalificado en narcomantas colocadas por sicarios en Chihuahua —sede de la V Zona Militar— y en Ciudad Juárez. En algunas de ellas se le acusaba de proteger los intereses del cártel de Juárez, y en otras de apoyar al de Sinaloa (Gente Nueva).

Medellín cita también las declaraciones de Mario Ángel González, hermano de la exsupprocuradora de Chihuahua Patricia González, sobre la supuesta corrupción de ese general.

Ahora, en un video en YouTube, Mario Ángel González Rodríguez, secuestrado hace dos semanas y hermano de la ex procuradora de Chihuahua, Patricia González Rodríguez, la señala a ella y a diversos ex funcionarios como vinculados con el cártel de Juárez (La Línea), y coloca sobre el general Espitia una sombra de duda, pues en la grabación también menciona su nombre. González habla de ex funcionarios, abogados y elementos policiacos como involucrados en el tráfico de drogas y en ejecuciones de policías y periodistas, y asegura en el video que el general Espitia recibía 100 mil dólares al mes por apoyar a La Línea.

Rodeado por hombres armados y encapuchados, González hizo esas declaraciones ante la cámara de video del grupo armado que lo tenía secuestrado y amagado.

Amenazas contra Jorge Alejandro Medellín

En el artículo, ninguna de las versiones sobre la presunta corrupción del general Espitia fue acompañada por evidencias o pruebas documentales. Todas esas versiones provienen de narcomantas o de videos realizados por grupos del crimen organizado,

En la redacción de su artículo, Medellín se cuida de opinar o dar credibilidad a esas versiones y se limita a reunir hechos dispersos y presentarlos en el cuerpo de la misma nota.

Sin embargo, la edición de la nota fue menos escrupulosa: El título, el sumario y las cabezas intermedias elegidas refuerzan la noción de que el general está “involucrado con el narcotráfico” y que su gestión se caracterizó por la “violencia y crueldad multiplicadas” y por “excesos y crímenes”. Los artículos periodísticos que se enfocan en un jefe o mando castrense individual y lo retratan como un personaje corrupto, cruel e inepto  sin ofrecer evidencias sólidas provoca irritación en los medios militares.

Por otra parte, al artículo le faltó dar el contexto de los intentos del crimen organizado para desprestigiar a generales del Ejército en las zonas de intensas operaciones militares, como parte de una estrategia de guerra psicológica que busca dañar la imagen del Ejército, bajar la moral de sus efectivos y crear condiciones para la derrota de sus unidades.

En realidad, la información del artículo había sido ya del dominio público. y nada de lo publicado  este domingo justificaría que el malestar de las autoridades militares se transformara en una agresión física o psicológica.

Sin embargo, el agresor decidió abrir las hostilidades y lanzar la amenaza contra Medellín, escondido tras el supuesto anonimato de una cuenta de Yahoo, activada desde septiembre de 2007 con el pseudónimo (o nombre de guerra) de Isacc. Digo supuesto porque la tecnología actual permitiría ubicar con facilidad relativa toda la actividad en línea de ese usuario en los últimos tres años y definir incluso las computadoras físicas que ha usado.

Entrevistado por MSN Messenger, entre los ratos febriles dedicados a buscar correos electrónicos, enviar mensajes a Facebook, responder llamadas telefónicas de solidaridad, y difundir las amenazas en su contra a nivel nacional e internacional, Medellín cuenta que ésta no es la primera vez que lo agreden en los comentarios al pie de sus notas publicadas en Internet.

“En los comentarios de la columna en Ejecentral un tipo cuyo nickname es Axcana, se la pasaba diciéndome maldición y media…mentándomela, diciéndome cualquier cantidad de groserías y cosas de que era yo un pendejo, de que no sabía lo que escribía y que era un farsante, pero con palabras y ofensas tremendas..”

Medellín, un reportero experimentado en la cobertura de temas castrenses, ha venido revelando el comportamiento de los mandos militares mexicanos que encabezan el combate contra el narcotráfico en su blog “De Orden Superior”.

Es evidente e innegable que las amenazas descritas están relacionadas con el trabajo periodístico de Medellín sobre temas militares.

Lo que no está claro es si la amenaza es parte del trabajo sucio de un elemento del Ejército, del crimen organizado, de inteligencia civil,  o de alguien que trabaja para todas las partes por igual. Si la amenaza fue realizada por un militar irritado, el acto no sólo sería deleznable y pueril, sino que sería rechazado por el alto mando debido a las consecuencias negativas internacionales de agredir a un investigador como Medellín.

Pero el acto también puede ser una operación de “propaganda negra” destinada a sembrar la sospecha en el Ejército y fomentar su desprestigio.

Medellín considera que lo sucedido a partir de las amenazas lanzadas a través del portal de Milenio Semanal se ubica en un contexto de agresiones cada vez más frecuentes contra los periodistas: “Las amenazas van en aumento al mismo tiempo que la violencia y sobre todo al parejo de las cosas que se publican en los medios mexicano y en combinación con lo que se revela en videos hechos por el crimen organizado y que son subidos a[l sitio de] Youtube, dice Medellín.

“En varios casos la PGR y otras instancias toman estos videos como base de sus investigaciones”, agrega el reportero. “El problema, lo grave es que las autoridades no investigan”.

Esta misma noche, la denuncia sobre las amenazas contra Jorge Alejandro Medellín ya fue divulgada a decenas de direcciones electrónicas en México, Estados Unidos, Latinoamérica y Europa. Las acciones del agresor ahora fueron conocidas ya por investigadores, periodistas, grupos de derechos humanos, funcionarios de policía y de gobierno de otros países. La información del incidente, sin duda, ya llegó a las oficinas del secretario de la Defensa y posiblemente también a las del propio presidente Felipe Calderón.

Por lo pronto, Medellín escribió en su cuenta de Messenger: “Responsabilizo al secretario de la Defensa, general Galván, al gral. Espitia y a la ex procuradora de lo que me suceda”.

Are you still doing this sh…?

I love this quote from Poynter’s Romenesko in regard to Bob Woodward, commenting that he says 8:15 pm is the best time to show up unannounced at a source’s home: “It’s after dinner and just before bed time. Sara Gregory tweets that Bob Woodward also told a Duke audience: “I’m 67 years old and my wife tells me, think about doing something else.” (He recently showed up unannounced at a general’s house and was asked: “Are you still doing this shit?”)”.

A mountain coming to the provinces

PANAMA — Journalists working from the Panama provinces are not quite fortunate in regard to training: they live and work to far away from the country’s capital and don’t have the same opportunities to take seminars and workshops usually available for their colleagues in Panama City.

Reporters and editors working in the provinces are usually non-staffers, working as free-lancer correspondents for the main newspaper, national TV and radio companies; Unless they are willing to travel to Panama on their own to attend the workshops, they rarely receive training.

In some instances the media companies organize journalism training programs for their correspondents in the provinces, but these journalists say the programs are not systematic and were suspended at one point.

These are the main reasons why Flor Ortega, executive director of the Forum of Journalists, and I as an ICFJ Fellow decided to create a training program for the provincial journalists. The plan is to hold workshops in Chiriquí, Chitré and Colón to offer the program to all the correspondents working for our media partners in the Panama provinces.

Flor Ortega speaking about Ethics in the Chiriquì workshop

The topics to be discussed are Journalism Ethics, How to Bulletproof Investigative Stories and How to Produce Investigative Stories while Covering Daily Assignments.

With funds from the U.S. Embassy in Panama, we organized the first workshop in David city, in the Chiriqui province, at the Panama border with Costa Rica. We invited all the correspondents working for La Prensa, La Estrella, Panama America, TVN and Medcom Corporation.

More than 30 journalists from Chiriquí and Bocas del Toro attended the workshop on October 16. They invited us to participate in a TV News Show to speak about Mi Panama Transparente, our project to train journalists to use an on-line digital map to track crime and corruption.

We were joined by Cecilia Fonseca, an editor for La Prensa, who has been trained as a trainer as a part for Mi Panama Transparente training program.

Cecilia Fonseca at work in the Chiriqui workshop

The Chiriquí and Bocas del Toro journalists were entering and exiting the room constantly because they were covering news at the same time.

It is possible that we didn’t resolve the isolation experienced by journalists working in the provinces, but at least we were able to create a system to train trainers and the take the trainers to the provinces. It means to have Panamanian journalists training their own colleagues. A mountain coming to the provinces.

Chiriquí journalists participating in the workshop