Juárez investigative journalists to receive Zenger Award from School of Journalism

Aug. 28, 2012

The University of Arizona School of Journalism will present Rocío Gallegos and Sandra Rodríguez, investigative reporters with El Diario de Juárez, the 2012 John Peter and Anna Catherine Zenger Award for their fight for press freedom in the face of threats from drug lords and government censorship.

The award will be presented at the Zenger Dinner, which also will celebrate the 60-year history of the UA journalism program. It will be held Friday, Oct. 12, at 7 p.m. at the Westin La Paloma Resort, 3800 E. Sunrise Drive. A no-host cocktail reception begins at 6 p.m.

The dinner’s celebration of the UA journalism program’s history will feature a talk by Jacqueline Sharkey, who retired in August after leading the school for 11 years and teaching for an additional 20.

School Director David Cuillier said Sharkey, Gallegos and Rodriguez are examples of journalists who have literally defied death to fight for press freedom and democracy. “Their dedication is an inspiration to journalists and everyone else who support a free and vibrant press that allows people to self-govern.”

The Zenger Award winners also will give a talk on Thursday, Oct. 11, at 7 p.m. in the Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering Building Room 202 titled “Journalists under fire: Bullets, censorship and coercion along the Mexican border.” During the past 20 years, 25 Mexican journalists have been murdered doing their jobs, but violence isn't the only threat to Mexican journalists, nor does it originate solely from organized crime. Government corruption and the lack of control over budgets are also sources of coercion and censorship that's become more and more intense against reporters.


Gallegos and Rodríguez will give first-hand accounts of the dangers they face that threaten the free flow of information within Mexico and across the border to the United States. In addition, UA journalism professors Celeste González de Bustamante and Jeannine Relly will describe the on-the-job threats they discovered through interviewing dozens of border journalists.

Gallegos and Rodríguez lead the investigative reporting team, at El Diario, which has uncovered evidence of numerous deaths related to drug cartel action in Juárez, a city of more than 1 million located just south of El Paso, Texas.

Since 2008 two of the newspapers' staff members have been killed, yet El Diario continues to publish critical investigative reports, said González de Bustamante, who nominated the reporters for the award. 

Gallegos joined the publication in 1996. She covers the violence related to drug trafficking, particularly as it relates to women, and is also the news coordinator at El Diario de Juárez. In April 2010, Gallegos co-founded the Network of Journalists of Juárez, a group that supports journalists through training and solidarity. She holds a master’s in journalism from the University of Texas at El Paso.

Rodríguez, an investigative reporter at El Diario de Juarez since 2003, covered immigration, maquiladoras, urban growth, corruption, crime and punishment. In 2008, she focused her reporting on the violence among drug cartels for control of drug trafficking in Sinaloa and Juárez.

In the same year, Rodríguez was recognized with the International Journalism Award given by El Mundo, a Spanish newspaper. She also was on the Los Angeles Times’ list of “Heroes of the Media.”

More than 80 journalists and news media workers in Mexico have been killed since 2000, according to Reporters without Borders, an organization carrying out the mission to protect and defend journalists working internationally. 

In 2011, Gallegos and Rodríguez were awarded the Knight International Journalism Award given annually by the Center for International Journalists. The entire El Diario news team also received the Maria Moors Cabot Award from Columbia University the same year. 

For more than 50 years, the Zenger Award has honored people who have made extraordinary contributions to freedom of the press and the people’s right to know. It is named for a husband and wife team of pioneering journalists. John Peter Zenger was editor of the New York Weekly Journal in 1734 when he was jailed by British colonial authorities on charges of seditious libel. He had criticized the corrupt administration of New York’s governor, William Cosby. While Zenger was imprisoned, his wife, Anna Catherine Zenger, continued to publish the newspaper.

Zenger’s subsequent trial and acquittal is considered a landmark case in the history of freedom of the press, helping to lay the foundation for the First Amendment. Past Zenger Award winners include Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, Walter Cronkite and Bill Moyers.