Wednesday, February 11, 2015


I wonder how many other online readers of The Monitor, based in McAllen, Texas, had a lump rise in their throats on the morning of Jan. 28 when they read this headline "GUNFIGHT BETWEEN CARTEL GUNMAN AND STATE POLICE ENDS IN ARRESTS" on the newspaper's website.

Of course, seeing that The Monitor is a Texas paper, my immediate impression was that the spillover violence is getting worse than I thought when Texas State Police officers end up in a "gunfight" with Mexican drug cartel members.

Reading the lead of the story didn't clarify things much: "State police arrested two men after a gunfight on Monday, according to a news release."

Having been the editor of The Monitor for nearly 13 years before my retirement in May 2013, I know the state police in Texas issue loads of press releases. So reading that lead didn't help.

It wasn't until I got to the second paragraph that I was able to breathe a sigh of relief upon finally learning that the "state police" the story was talking about was, apparently, the state police in Tamaulipas, Mex. I say "apparently" because no where in the story -- attributed in the second paragraph to a press release from the "Tamaulipas attorney general's office" -- does it specifically say that it was the Tamaulipas state police who were involved in the gunfight which you learn still later in the story occurred on the Mexican side of the border "along the Mier-Miguel Aleman highway."

Seems to me that in reporting on violence involving Mexican drug cartels, the numerous newspapers along the US-Mexico border from Texas to California have a special obligation to make quite clear from the outset (as in the headlines and certainly the leads of stories) where the outbreaks of violence they are reporting on occurred.

The numerous, and seemingly increasing, outbreaks of drug violence in border areas makes residents on the US side justifiably nervous and worried about the possibility of spillover. Border newspapers need to report on the violence when they can, but in doing so, I think they are also obliged to make it very clear, beginning with their headlines, who's "state police" are involved in "gunfights" where.

Clarity in reporting and headline writing is every bit as important as accuracy.

Here is the link to The Monitor story:


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