Digital Media: Breaking Boundaries, Bridging Divides
The boundaries that divide most communities are usually based on race, language, religion or socio-economic differences. At the U.S. – Mexico borderline where I live, the separation between people is physical and political – government policies that create walls and other barriers to the free exchange of travel, business, education, ideas and personal relationships. Unfortunately, traditional news media (newspapers, broadcast television, magazines, newsletters) have reinforced the separation of my community of El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, twin border cities of about 2 million residents that meet at the banks of the Rio Grande.
Most news stories about the border – whether they deal with drugs, a health crisis or environmental pollution – rarely explore impact on both sides. For example, reporters frequently write about the effects of air pollution from a copper smelter on Central El Paso without also examining the spread of the contamination to a Mexican colonia a few hundred yards away. Or they write about the rapid rise of diabetes among El Pasoans, without exploring a similar problem in Juarez, ignoring the fact that most of our residents have family members living on both sides.
Language (English or Spanish) has also been a barrier to communication at the border. Although El Paso is more than 70 percent Hispanic and many local residents speak English and Spanish, the city’s only major daily is English-only. Juarez has a Spanish newspaper, El Diario, which recently began publishing a sister newspaper in Spanish in El Paso. There are currently no bilingual publications in the borderplex.
We propose to use new communication technologies (digital cameras, cell phones, webcams) and the Web to bridge the geographic and communication divide. Digital media, specifically a bilingual BorderZine accessible to U.S. and Mexico residents of the border region, can be a tool for the free exchange of information, ideas, news, commentary and images. It can help border residents connect on an immediate people-to-people basis using interactive modes of communication like written and video blogs. Recently, the Sam Donaldson Center received a modest grant from the Ford Foundation to allow my school to create a bilingual multimedia Web magazine to connect residents of the borderlands. Planning for the project is in the early stages and still collecting ideas. An opportunity to attend the We Media Conference in February would be an invaluable source of information, cutting-edge ideas and contacts for this project.
I believe the border presents a perfect laboratory for groundbreaking journalism that uses digital media to cross boundaries and connect communities. It will allow members of our community to create a new style of hybrid journalism in cyberspace that truly crosses borders. The new technology, plus plenty of imagination, will make this project viable.
Associate Director, Sam Donaldson Center for Communication Studies
University of Texas at El Paso