Friday, April 30, 2010

Reporting on the Border: Peña joins TT editor Evan Smith, addresses UT students

State Representative Aaron Peña spoke to UT students, Wednesday, regarding the emergence of social media in the reporting of cartel related violence in Northern Mexico. Addressing a class of graduate students at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, Peña described how such resources - including blogs, Twitter feeds, and YouTube videos - are all bridging the information gap created by a cartel crackdown on Mexican journalists.

"The traditional media in Northern Mexico is being harassed, threatened, kidnapped and killed into censorship" Peña said. "While there are many brave journalists still reporting on the violence, much of the information we receive is coming from regular people using social media to document what is happening around them."

Peña was invited to speak by Evan Smith, who teaches the class ("Pubic Affairs and the New Political Media"). Smith is the former editor in chief of Texas Monthly Magazine and the editor in chief of the Texas Tribune.

As chair of the House Select Committee on Emergency Preparedness, Peña has been tasked with examining Texas' preparedness for emergencies stemming from natural and criminal threats. Peña, himself a practitioner of the new social media, discussed how the web is cultivating a new breed of citizen journalists, the web's anonymity enabling them to shine a light on the drug fueled violence in Northern Mexico.

"Social media will be critical in providing us with new methods of communication," Peña told the class. "Smart phones, cameras, wireless internet and the websites that allow these stories to be told are vital to providing the public with information. These tools can inform, educate and help prepare our communities to respond to and recover from emergency threats."

For example, Twitter has emerged as a particularly useful tool in getting quick, concise updates out of Mexico to the rest of the world. As such, Peña has created a twitter feed - - that can be used to collate information regarding border security in Texas and other threats.

The House Select Committee on Emergency Preparedness will hold it's next hearing in McAllen on May 17th at the McAllen convention Center (10:00 a.m.) The committee will discuss border security and hurricane preparedness in Texas. The hearing is open to the public.

For more information contact the Committee Clerk, Benjamin Wright, at 512 463 0426 or email

For Chairmen Peña's personal reflections, visit his blog at

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