The follow is an abbreviated transcript of Daniela Vidal’s interview with Daniel Guazo for the IRE Radio Podcast. This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Daniela Vidal (IRE): Could you tell me a little bit about what this project is about, The Disappeared?
Daniela Guazo (El Universal): The objective of this project was to show the stories behind the high numbers of people who have disappeared in Mexico. This is a big problem in Mexico and all of Latin America. We wanted to show all the stories behind that.
DV: If someone isn’t familiar with the word “disappeared,” how would you explain it to them.
DG: Disappearing is a term that in Mexico is difficult to explain, but we found a simple explanation: It’s a person who is not with his or her family, and the family is looking, but you don’t know where he or she is. It’s important because in Mexico there are maybe five different terms to describe disappearing people, and in only two of them the person is considered a victim and the government is investigating. With the others terms, the family does the investigation, not the government.
DV: When you were looking at these numbers, what was going through your mind?
DG: When we found the data and we found a big number - about 26,000 missing - we thought, how can we show that they are not only numbers, they are not only statistics. They are people and they have families. They had a job, a son, a daughter. And we thought, we have the data, the statistics, and we have to find different stories to show the different methods of disappearing a person. Maybe one person just goes to work and disappears. Another person goes to a movie and disappears. We have 31 states and 1 city (in Mexico), so we have 32 stories that we have to find.
DV: So how did you find those stories and people who would be willing to talk to you?
DG: We talked with correspondents at El Universal and they would go to the different states and find stories about missing people. As a team, we did stories about Mexico City, the state of Mexico, and the state of Queretaro. And the others, the correspondents at El Universal did those.
DV: Were some of the correspondents you worked with kind of afraid to go into some of these states, just because of how dangerous it could be?
DG: Yes. They don’t go to states like Tamaulipas or Coahuila or Veracruz. It was very difficult. In fact, in Veracruz it was very difficult to find a story. They called us and said, ‘Maybe in Veracruz there are no missing people.’ But really, there are.
DV: It’s just nobody really wanted to talk about it.
DG: Yeah, nobody wanted to talk about it. They said, ‘I can’t find a story. Nobody wants to tell me a story about missing people.’
DV: So when these families finally did see the story in El Universal, what was their reaction to it?
DG: The families are very grateful to us. They are afraid, but they want someone, anyone to talk to them and hear their stories and to show that they have a big problem with disappearing people. They are afraid at first, but then they are very grateful to see that the media want to hear their stories.
DV: To the people of Mexico, I imagine it’s not a surprise that 26,000 people have been disappeared.
DG: Yeah, sadly it’s not a surprise.
DV: So for them to see, here are individual stories…
DG: The number 26,000 wasn’t a surprise because everybody knows this number. But the stories, yes, those were a surprise. Because when you read the stories, it seems to be something that can happen to anyone.
DV: So is the perception sometimes that the people who are disappeared were involved in criminal activity and so it made sense that they had been taken?
DG: Maybe when people are murdered, maybe they think that they were involved in criminal activity. But when somebody is disappeared, it’s very difficult to find the real reason. And this is why maybe it seems to be something that happens to anyone. A lot of people disappear and have no connection to criminal activity.
DV: Data journalism is really new in Mexico, so was it hard to prove that, hey, this thing we’re doing is really valuable for reporting in this country?
DG: Yeah, it’s very difficult in Mexico because, like you said, in Mexico data journalism is new. Maybe just three or four years old. But with this project, we showed what kind of project we can do. We worked with a programmer, a designer, photographers and correspondents. It was a big team. But with this project, we showed what kinds of stories and products we can create.