When the coronavirus started spreading in Chihuahua, Mexico — the country’s largest and third most populous state, bordering the United States — in 2020, schools were closed, hospitals were filled with patients, and people started wearing face coverings and using hand sanitizer.
But the Rarámuri people — a large Indigenous population in the Sierra Tarahumara mountain region of Chihuahua — received little official information about the pandemic. Many were hesitant about the Covid-19 vaccines when they became available, Jaime Armendáriz, the editor of Raíchali Noticias, said.
That led Raíchali’s reporting team to produce a bilingual podcast — one in Spanish and one in Rarámuri — that detailed how Indigenous people in the Sierra Tarahumara, mostly of the Rarámuri tribe, experienced the pandemic.
“At first, we were going to produce a video and a text story translated [into Rarámuri],” Armendáriz said. “But later when we were in these communities, they told us and we realized that wouldn’t be possible. Everything is over audio. They use WhatsApp audio messages a lot, and even though there are areas with no internet, there are others where they can easily access WhatsApp. That’s why we decided to do a podcast.”
Raíchali, which means “word” in Rarámuri, was founded as an independent online news outlet in 2018 to cover the Indigenous populations of Chihuahua, rural communities, corruption, and the human rights violations in the state. Armendáriz launched Raíchali after more than 10 years covering former president Felipe Calderón’s war on drugs and its human toll. The years between 2008 and 2010 were particularly violent in Chihuahua and Ciudad Juarez, a border city next to El Paso, Texas.
“It got to the point where [local journalists] were war correspondents [at home]. [It wasn’t as if] we had been sent somewhere else,” Armendáriz said. “Aside from high rates of violence in Chihuahua, there was also a lot of self-censorship in local news outlets because they received funding from government advertising. I worked at a news outlet like that and when you start covering the victims of war, you see that Indigenous communities are the ones that most suffered from displacement and extreme violence. From there, other journalists and I wanted to cover that, but the working conditions at the time wouldn’t allow for it.”
Around 2013, Armendáriz and other local journalists in Chihuahua formed the Red Libre Periodismo, a network of journalists committed to defending freedom of expression and promoting independent journalism in the state. Armendáriz spent the next few years learning how to thoughtfully cover Indigenous communities and victims of violence and corruption. By 2016, he was set on launching an independent news outlet that would become Raíchali. He joined Periodistas de a Pie, an organization that provides workshops, tools, and resources to news outlets covering human rights and social issues in Mexico.
Raíchali launched in 2018 and employs four full-time journalists and one part-time. It’s funded through grants and awards from the Open Society Foundation, the International Center for Journalists, SembraMedia, and the Deutsche Welle International Foundation. Today it averages about 15,000 pageviews per month and its social media reach between Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram averages around 200,000, according to Armendáriz, with the highest reach on Facebook. Its audience is geographically diverse, with readers in the mountain regions, in Chihuahua’s larger cities, and in other states.
Raíchali focuses on collaborative journalism. It’s a member of La Alianza de Medios, a media alliance between 11 local news outlets across Mexico, that’s led by Periodistas de a Pie. When the alliance launched in 2018, it shared stories and resources to cover migrant caravans moving through every state where an alliance news outlet was located.
Raíchali’s journalists focus on providing correct context in all their stories. That means spending time in Rarámuri and other communities for days, sometimes weeks, surveying people about their news intake and what they want to know, and showing them what Raíchali is about before starting the formal reporting process.
“We work by doing more listening before reporting,” Armendáriz said. “You have to understand the context that these communities live in, especially in the mountain regions, before you go in with a recorder, extract information, and leave, which is what the majority of news outlets do…Obviously, it takes longer to publish stories, but we do so with a different context. Most of the Raíchali team isn’t Rarámuri so sometimes we arrive in communities with preconceived notions, and it’s really important to give as much context as possible when reporting on these communities.”
Raíchali has been particularly focused on reporting on displacement due to drug trafficking and violence. The team decided to go into the communities to get a better understanding about how people wanted to talk about displacement and what they understood the impact to be. They spent weeks in conversation and community members decided that they wanted an explainer with maps to show where they are. Raíchali then organized workshops in the communities with cartographers to produce maps that show how displacement has led to a decline in Indigenous languages.
Now, Armendáriz is working on sustaining Raíchali financially and exploring events and memberships as additional revenue streams. The podcast about the pandemic offered the opportunity to experiment with events.
“[In April] we held an exhibition with photos, graphics, and a computer with headphones so people could listen to the podcast in Spanish and in Rarámuri,” Armendáriz said. “We put out some grills and had carne asada and we were there with our audience cooking. It was an informal chat, but we charged an entrance fee. It was interesting and I think it’s one of the steps we’ll be taking to create this Raíchali community to be able to sustain this project.”