When a reporting team from the Voice of America’s English newsroom and Spanish language service needed to visualize the deadly threats to Mexican journalists, they knew many important moments could never be captured on video or in a photo.
One of those was the moment when Reynosa newspaper reporter Jésus Humberto González came face-to-face in a grocery store, in the presence of his children, with the man who had kidnapped González.
The reporting team chose to illustrate González’ experience artistically.
This month, the prestigious Society for News Design awarded a bronze medal to Brian Williamson, the VOA News Center graphic artist, for the design of “The Mechanism.” The SND Best of Digital News Design is “a juried competition recognizing excellence in print and digital storytelling, graphics, and social media, with a goal of identifying the best visual journalism that pushes the boundaries of design and technology.”
Williamson collaborated with VOA Spanish service journalists Cristina Caicedo Smit in Washington, DC and Victor Castillo in Reynosa, Mexico, as well as VOA Press Freedom editor Jessica Jerreat and VOA Spanish service editor Lina Correa, both editors in Washington
“Mixed the use of comic and narrative together,” Society for News Design judges wrote. “This is a very effective way of trying to represent people who (you) can’t picture because of the sensitivity.”
VOA published the project in Spanish and English simultaneously.
Every 12 hours, a journalist in Mexico is threatened. Between 2012 and 2021, 31 journalists were killed, many threatened first and kidnapped. With one of the worst records globally for securing justice in media killings, Mexico’s government has taken steps to address the problem: The Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists. Those quoted in “The Mechanism” say the government’s effort doesn’t reduce their chances of being threatened, grabbed off the street or worse.
Most of the Mexican journalists slain since 2012 covered crime and criminal justice. For decades, organized crime has operated with impunity in large sections of the country.
People who know González feared he had become another victim when he disappeared. “That still haunts me — all the time,” he told VOA.
“Mexico’s journalists work in one of the most dangerous environments for media. But without their reporting, communities and society as a whole are left in the dark,” said VOA Press Freedom Editor Jessica Jerreat. ”By combining VOA's interviews with reporters on the front lines of covering organized crime with compelling animation and data visualization, ‘The Mechanism’ shows both the inherent dangers and the impact of their work.”
The judges wrote that the illustrations lead readers through the story: “It feels compelling, it feels like you want to drive through the narrative.”
Williamson is cited in two other SND award categories: An award of excellence for use of in-house illustration; and, an award of excellence for design portfolio for his illustrations in projects involving Mexico, Ethiopia and Afghanistan.