CULLIACAN (Mexico), May 19 — Crime reporter Javier Valdez’s murder has silenced one media voice in Mexico’s ganglands, but he inspired a generation of journalists who are remembering his teachings as they mourn him.
“He was not a teacher, he was a companion, a friend in the classroom,” said Karen Bravo, 24.
Once a pupil in Valdez’s university journalism workshops, she is now a reporter for the local television channel Mega Cable.
“He taught you what was going to happen to you,” she recalls.
“’Don’t be afraid, damn it,’ he would say. Don’t be afraid’.”
She recalled the award-winning reporter’s advice to young journalists: “You have to get out into the street. You can’t just repeat what officials tell you. You have to investigate.”
Valdez made investigative reporting an art form in his tightly-worded columns for Riodoce, the weekly publication Riodoce in the town of Culiacan.
Riodoce’s director Ismael Bojorquez said Valdez’s reports and columns combined journalistic rigor with the skill of a novelist — and a knowledge of the risks.
“Of course he was afraid. I am afraid too,” Bojorquez said.
“What we do, we do in fear, but we will continue.”
It is not known who gunned down Valdez, 50, in broad daylight Monday near the Riodoce offices, leaving him lying in the street beside his trademark Panama hat.
But he was the fifth journalist killed this year after reporting on Mexico’s powerful drug gangs. He wrote about the notorious Sinaloa cartel in his home state.
As well as his Riodoce column “Mala Yerba” (“Weed”), Valdez filled the days writing books such as Grenade in the Mouth and Miss Narco.
He had been a contributor to AFP for more than a decade.
Valdez was always eager to publish but “very careful and thorough in finishing a piece,” said Riodoce news editor Andres Villareal.
Soul of the newsroom
Ema Leyva, 26, says Valdez changed the course of her life.
She was planning to study tourism, but instead signed up to one of his classes.
“Being with him gave you confidence,” she said. “It made you feel at peace.”
Valdez’s killing bereaved the half-dozen reporters at Riodoce, who continue working without bodyguards.
“He was our soul, our joy,” said one of them, Miriam Ramirez.
“He was always telling us jokes. He laughed about everything, including himself,” she said.
“I don’t know how we are going to manage without his smile in the newsroom.”
Each morning at seven o’clock, Valdez would sit at a table in the Bistromiro cafe in Culiacan for a coffee and a tuna sandwich.
He brought the waitresses Valentine’s and Mother’s Day presents and always chatted to them about their families, staff said.
After his death this week, mourners left flowers on the table, as well as a newspaper with Valdez’s face on the cover.
Media rights groups say killings of journalists are going unpunished in Mexico due to corrupt officials’ links with drug gangs.
Valdes himself “was very critical of the federal government and its war on drugs,” Villareal said, “in which everyone gets caught in the crossfire.” — AFP