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March 12, 2024, 2:50 p.m.
Business Models

Mexican journalists launch a new outlet from the ashes of the country’s shuttered state news agency

Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, had said last year that there no need for a state news agency since he conducts daily press briefings.

Former employees of Mexico’s now-defunct state news agency, Notimex, launched the Mexican Association of Information (AMEXI) last Thursday as a new news outlet covering the country’s deepest challenges, according to an announcement posted on Twitter.

“One of the main focuses of this new media outlet, which is made up mostly of women, is to capture all the experience compiled throughout Notimex’s 55-year history with a strong sense of [commitment] to social and labor [issues] that will give voice to the struggles that are taking place in our country today that are little known or underreported in an unbiased manner,” the news release says in Spanish.

AMEXI will operate as a worker cooperative and will highlight labor issues in Mexico, alongside coverage of national and international news, business, sports, entertainment, and lifestyle and culture. At launch, it has 5o workers and editorial partnerships with entertainment publication Notistarz, photojournalism collective FotorreporterosMX, and the Mexican Information Agency (AIMX).

“We thought about different structures that could be economically viable and we were struck by the fact that in Mexico there are [currently] no media cooperatives,” said Adriana Urrea, an AMEXI co-founder and the secretary of the Union of Notimex Workers (SUTNotimex). “This issue of social economy is important to us because we’re coming from a [worker-led movement] and a union effort. One of our objectives is also to support and promote this cooperative structure.”

AMEXI is currently free to access and doesn’t have a paywall. The workers are putting their own money in to get started, but Urrea, who was a Notimex business reporter for more than a decade, said they’re exploring options to launch wire service subscriptions, include advertising, accept financial contributions from readers, and offer journalism-related workshops and trainings.

Notimex launched as a government-funded news agency in 1968 and later expanded as a news service covering Mexico’s 32 states. Last November, SUTNotimex said the agency employed at least 300 people.

Mexico’s Congress voted to dissolve Notimex last December. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (known by his initials, AMLO) had said in April 2023 that there no need for a state news agency since he conducts daily press briefings (“mañaneras“) that are live-streamed on social media and YouTube, the AP reported at the time.

When Notimex shut down in December, unionized workers had been on strike for 1,408 days in protest of Sanjuana Martínez, the journalist AMLO appointed to run the agency. The strike was the longest work stoppage during AMLO’s presidency and likely among the longest in journalism history worldwide, per AMEXI. (During the nearly four year-strike, more than 30 negotiation meetings between the union and the agency took place, but none resulted in a resolution, according to El País.)

Martínez took charge of Notimex in 2019. In 2022, employees told Courthouse News Service that the work environment “became one of ‘labor terrorism.’” Reporters were asked to publish information they couldn’t verify and were stopped from covering certain issues and people. Martínez also allegedly fired 245 staffers without cause.

From Cody Copeland‘s Courthouse News Service piece:

At one point during the construction of a controversial mixed-use development that now boasts Mexico City’s tallest skyscraper, Martínez ordered Urrea and others to publish stories of money laundering in the operation without any evidence to support such a claim.

An editor was able to kill the baseless story before it was printed, “but that was the kind of thing they asked of us,” said Urrea.

Then came the unlawful firings, 245 of them. Urrea described a workforce racked with stress and paranoia, afraid to challenge leadership or even chat with colleagues in the hall.

In what may be the most chilling description of the institutional change at Notimex, workers gathering in groups of three or more were suspected of conspiracy against management and made to appear before their superiors to explain themselves. Those whose reasons were not deemed valid were fired.

Then the agency began to do away with contractually guaranteed benefits. When the workers asked why, they were told it was because of the executive branch’s policy of austerity. The austerity law that has characterized López Obrador’s administration, however, specifically protects collective labor contracts like those of the Notimex employees.

Mexico continues to be one of the most difficult countries in the world to be a journalist, ranking 128 out of 180 on the Reporters without Borders Press Freedom Index. At least 44 journalists have been killed in the country since AMLO took office in 2018, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Mexican press freedom organization Artículo 19 recorded more 561 attacks on the press in 2023.

Despite the challenges in the last few years, “Notimex was a great journalism school,” Urrea said, and AMEXI wants to promote and strengthen journalism in Mexico as Notimex once did. However, the team isn’t looking at AMEXI as a way to relaunch the agency, but instead as an outlet that applies the workers’ journalism experience to current times.

“Notimex operated in one way, but in the landscape we face today — of greater media exposure, infodemic issues, and biased information — we need to provide a reliable information source,” Urrea said. “We need to inform differently. Notimex, for example, reported day by day, minute by minute, almost any event that was taking place. It had other products in radio, television, and other special productions, but its strength was daily coverage. We have a different structure because we simply don’t have the same human capital. The ways of working have to be different.”

Photo from Facebook/AMEXI

Hanaa' Tameez is a staff writer at Nieman Lab. You can reach her via email (hanaa@niemanlab.org) or Twitter DM (@HanaaTameez).
POSTED     March 12, 2024, 2:50 p.m.
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