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LBJ School Dual-Degree Student and Seasoned Journalist Publishes E-Book on U.S.-Mexico Border Relations and Drug Trafficking

Seasoned Journalist and Current LBJ Student Serves as Rapporteur for Drug Trafficking Conference, then Publishes Conference Findings in E-Book through the Knight Center

AUSTIN, Texas-- Sept. 20, 2010-- Many of the students who come to the LBJ School already have years of public or private sector experience, but not many can claim 15 years of journalism experience and first-hand knowledge of the ongoing war along the Mexico-U.S. border. That’s the case for Monica Medel, a dual-degree seeker in Public Affairs and Latin American Studies.  Medel, a native of Chile, served as a Latin American journalist for agencies like The Washington Post and Proceso Magazine of Mexico for a decade and a half before deciding to return to school.

“I served as a reporter for EFE News Agency from Spain in my native Chile and in Mexico, then was hired by the British News Agency Reuters in Mexico,” Medel said. “That’s where one of my many responsibilities was covering drug trafficking and the country’s bloody drug war.”

It was at that time that Medel was approached by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas. They were interested in her background and thought her skill set was a perfect fit for her to be the rapporteur for their seminar titled “Cross-border Coverage of U.S.-Mexico Drug Trafficking”.

“Given my record and experience reporting on the drug war in Mexico, and given the fact that I already knew and had worked with some of the attendees from the U.S. and Mexico media outlets, the organizers of the cross-border conference thought I would be a perfect addition to the meeting,” Medel said. “I was pleased to take the job, not only because the topic is interesting, if very scary, but also since, as part of my degree program, I am writing a thesis on the escalated levels of brutality in Mexico’s drug war.”

As part of her conference responsibilities, the Knight Center requested that Medel publish a report at the conclusion of the conference.

“I think all of us have been very happy with the result,” Medel said. “My report was downloaded by more than 100 people just during its first afternoon online.”

Medel’s studies at the LBJ School and in Latin American Studies have helped add perspective to what she took away from the cross-border seminar.

“The conference touched on many of the same themes that my research has,” Medel said. “My skills and experience as a journalist came in handy, but what I have learned during my studies at the LBJ School and in Latin American Studies have helped me gain valuable perspective and better put the contemporary themes touched on during the conference into better historical and global perspective.”

Medel’s post-graduation plans include continuing her work in Latin America, in security and immigration policy.

“After graduation, I am interested in a career focusing on personal security issues at every level,” Medel said. “From discovering better ways to protect against common crime to tackling such hot-button issues as immigration reform so as to create stronger legal protections, not only for people entering countries illegally, but also native citizens of that country who are affected by the flow of undocumented immigrants. I am excited to use my skills either in the United States, or in Mexico, Chile or elsewhere in Latin America.”

Although Medel doesn’t have future plans for publication, she assists with a media-related blog run by the Knight Center.

“I help run a blog on the media,” Medel said. “My job is to choose major news stories of the day, as well as media commentary on those stories, and to translate them into Spanish.”

No matter how familiar one is with Mexico’s war on drugs, Medel says the dangers and risks involved in covering the stories can still shock even the most seasoned of journalists.

“I knew going in that covering Mexico’s drug war was dangerous,” Medel said. “But I was still struck by just how much personal risk those covering the border take in simply by doing their jobs. The dangers and pressures they face every day are so tremendous and terrifying that I have even more respect now for the credibility of those who put their lives on the line to get the story.”

Medel, having worked in Mexico and Latin America as a journalist, is very familiar with the problems the country faces.

“The problems Mexican journalists are facing are a reflection of the difficulties of all Mexican society,” Medel said. “There is a lack of governance, rampant corruption and uncontrolled violence. Without the press, institutions are even less accountable and these problems will only get worse.”

For more information on Medel’s work, or to download her e-book, click here

BY: Kelly Owens Pratlett