Dispatches From Mexico City: Dealing With The News Coverage

Author: Ty Trumbull
Author: Ty Trumbull

Last week I wrote about the amount of opportunity in Mexico. I espoused and pontificated on the potential for upward movement here and the strong work ethic, all while recognizing the need for reforms to help further and facilitate that movement.

The same day we posted that piece, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) released a widely-quoted report claiming Mexico is the second most violent country in the world, surpassed only by Syria.

It’s hard news to digest. Syria’s death toll sat at 50,000 in 2016 thanks to the ongoing civil war there, while the report said Mexico’s drug war claimed 23,000 lives. It’s not a cheery subject, to be sure. But it’s something I think important to address, given the subject matter of last week’s column -- and the fact that I believe Mexico provides ample opportunity for entrepreneurs, technology experts and aspiring business owners.

It should be noted, the report has been squarely denounced by the Mexican government, with many officials and experts, both here and abroad, decrying its methodology. As the Guardian writes: “Tom Long, a professor at the University of Reading in the UK, said: ‘This is shoddy work and sensationalist promotion ... Equating violence around drug trafficking to a civil war is really an uneven comparison.’”

Confirmation Bias

What I was most struck by on seeing the news was the disparity between the headlines and the reality I saw around me. The people here I spoke to were annoyed, even angry with the study. The study doesn’t take into account population sizes or other possible motives for killings outside the drug war, according to many critics. Instead, some folks I spoke with accused the coverage of confirmation bias from an international media bent on painting Mexico as a dangerous place.

Of the 50 most dangerous cities in the world, four are in the United States and five are in Mexico. Mexico City, the second most populated city in the hemisphere and the place I call home, doesn’t even make the list. To be sure, there are places where you need to keep your wits about you and some places you just don’t go at night but those exist everywhere. I know what areas to avoid in Toronto (my hometown) just as much as I do Mexico City (my new home).

Finding The Upside

There is some positive news to be gleaned from this though. It’s also news that I think should have been given top billing, even if it goes against the “if it bleeds, it leads” mantra driven into me in journalism school:

The number of conflict deaths around the world is down, falling from 180,000 in 2014 to 157,000 last year, according to the IISS. For example, last year Columbia entered peace negotiations with the FARC rebel group, ending the half-century conflict there. The treaty also ushered in a new era: the first time in modern history there’s been no war in the entire Western hemisphere.

Of course, as NPR points out, just because there’s no war doesn’t mean there’s full-fledged peace. Turmoil continuous in Venezuela, gang violence is prevalent in Central American countries like Honduras and Guatemala, and drug violence remains a problem in many countries. But at the very least things look to be improving.

The point is, it’s easy to be misled by some news coverage -- but we shouldn’t allow headlines to define a place for us. There are so many aspects of this country that inspire wonder and awe that I hate the idea of someone choosing not to come here because of something they read.

Ty Trumbull, from his base in Mexico City, covers the entrepreneur’s journey and business continuity for ChannelE2E. Each Tuesday, he offers views about his new hometown.