Entrevista: The history of organized crime in Mexico, told through data

In Entrevistas by María Elena Meneses

Entrevista realizada a María Elena Meneses y publicada originalmente en Columbia Journalism Review.

In October 2014, journalist Tania Montalvo walked into an editorial meeting at Mexican news website Animal Político with a document from the country’s Attorney General’s Office. The two-page document she’d obtained through Mexico’s freedom of information law shows one column with the names of nine cartels, a second column with the criminal groups tied to each cartel, and a third column with the Mexican state where each criminal group operates.

Apart from providing a list of names and locations of the criminal groups active in the country, the document also debunks common myths perpetuated by politicians—that organized crime doesn’t have a presence in Mexico City, for example.

But rather than publish an exclusive with a quick infographic, Animal Politico’s executive editor, Dulce Ramos, decided to hold onto the document. She wanted to gather more data and create an interactive piece of journalism that would take readers back several decades and help them understand how Mexico ended up with nine active cartels and 43 criminal groups.

Ramos had a scoop, but she also had a problem. When a document is produced in response to a request under Mexico’s transparency law, it becomes available to the public. Soon, several traditional media outlets got copies of the document and published articles about it. “That was disappointing at the beginning,” Ramos says. “But we tried to remain calm and say: ‘What we want to do is different. We’re not just looking at this document, we’re making requests for [data] that looks forward and backwards in the history of drug trafficking.”

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María Elena MenesesEntrevista: The history of organized crime in Mexico, told through data