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June 1, 2009
Mexican journalists prepare for job with survival training

Those reporting on Mexico’s drug violence and organized crime are not immune to their deadly effects. About 50 journalists have been killed in Mexico since 2000, some targeted because of their work. 

Deborah Bonello is a multimedia journalist based in Mexico City who works for The Los Angeles Times. She blogs at Mexico Reporter, where she writes about attending a survival training session. 

Training Day 

My breath is tearing out of my lungs and my leg muscles are screaming for a reprieve. I just scaled a 60-degree hill coated in thorny brambles and poisonous plants whilst being pounded by rain. In the dark. I thought it couldn’t get any worse, but it did. Later that night, my fellow journalists and I were kidnapped by masked guerillas who jumped onto our bus.

Our only comfort? That none of this was real. But it could have been, which is the point of the survival course 18 journalists who live and work in Mexico attended last week in Toluca, just outside of Mexico City.

During the five day survival program, the journalists dodged tear gas and Army tanks and learned how to survive in the wilderness. The psychological stresses were addressed, too; they learned strategies for dealing with emotions.

In Mexico these days, that may be the most important lesson of all.

“Once in Apatzingan a cameraman and I were taken,” says Miguel Garcia Tinoco, a 40-year-old journalist and owner of the Notivideo video news website based in Michoacan.

“They took us to talk with a drug-trafficking boss on a street in Apatzingan, and they wanted to make us write what they wanted, what they wanted to communicate.”

This group of traffickers gained infamy three years ago when they tossed the severed heads of six enemies onto the dance floor of a nightclub.

“They wanted us to publish an explanation of why they’d murdered those six people. What we told them was that we couldn’t make a decision in terms of what we published or didn’t publish in the newspaper – that it was up to the editor. And in the end my editor decided not to publish anything at all.”

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