Knight Center
Knight Center


Cabot Prize winner Angela Kocherga thanks those who entrust her with their stories and 'risk their lives in search of justice'

For three decades, journalist Angela Kocherga’s reporting has traversed the border that bisects the U.S. and Mexico. The border is both workplace and home for the reporter who “lives on the edge of Texas, New Mexico and Chihuahua.”

Angela Kocherga is a winner of the 2019 Maria Moors Cabot Prize (Twitter)

Her career and reporting have earned her a 2019 Maria Moors Cabot Prize, which recognizes journalists who have furthered understanding between the countries of the American continent.

“Angela Kocherga has made it her mission to tell the story of the borderlands where the United States and Mexico meet, a line that both unites and divides,” the Cabot jury said of the journalist who reports for The Albuquerque Journal in the U.S. “At a time when United States policy calls for building walls, her reporting serves to build understanding.”

Kocherga has reported on migration from Central America and the immigration policies of the U.S., the drugs wars and disappeared in Ciudad Juarez, and the impacts of the former on residents of border communities in Texas, New Mexico and Mexico.

She is also a special contributor for public radio and television and previously worked as a Mexico border reporter at The Dallas Morning News, Mexico bureau chief and then border bureau chief for Belo Broadcasting, and news reporter for WFAA in Dallas/Fort Worth. Additionally, she was a journalism professor in border reporting at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and was director of Borderlands, a program published by Cronkite News.

Kocherga will receive the Cabot Prize from the Columbia Journalism School in New York City on Oct. 16.

The Knight Center asked Kocherga about her career as a reporter on the U.S.-Mexico border, today’s coverage of that region and the significance of winning the Cabot Prize.

The entire interview continues below. Responses have been edited for clarity.

Knight Center: When and why did you decide to enter journalism?

Angela Kocherga: My mother is my inspiration. She understood the power of words, the power of story and made sure as a child I always had a book in my hand. And because she raised me, my brother and sister on both sides of the border from Mexico City to Guadalajara to the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, it ensured I would grow up bilingual, bicultural and binational. I began to develop my reporting skills working on the high school newspaper and competing in writing competitions and then decided to pursue journalism as my major when I went off to the University of Texas at Austin. There I branched out into broadcasting and in addition to television got my first taste of radio reporting.

KC: When you think of all the people you’ve interviewed and all of the stories you’ve covered, which were the most interesting or which did you learn from the most?

AK: That's hard to say. I am grateful to all those who entrust me with their stories, especially those who risk their lives in search of justice, like relatives of the disappeared. The children I've met making their way to the U.S. stay with me. I often wonder what happened to the 14-year-old boy on a bus in Mexico filled with men being deported back to Honduras. He said he fled his home after his father was murdered. He looked younger than he was and his voice still cracked because it hadn't fully changed yet. That was in 2002 on the Mexico-Guatemala border. I would go on to interview many other kids like him and younger in Central America, Mexico,  and of course now on the U.S.-Mexico border.

One of my favorite stories was about teens dressed up like angels complete with silver makeup on their faces and giant wings who visited crime scenes in Ciudad Juárez. They offered comfort to victims’ families and held signs that urged both "corrupt police officers" and "sicarios," or hit men, to repent. During the peak violent years in Juárez, victims' rights and emotional trauma care were in short supply, but I learned that a simple gesture could have a profound impact in the aftermath of a shooting.

KC: What can you say about the quality of coverage on the U.S.-Mexico border region?

AK: It tends to be crisis-oriented and at times shallow. But these days, there is some great reporting happening focused on immigration issues and the humanitarian crisis. The focus of the current administration on the border has resulted in more journalists coming to the border to report. I am a big believer in on-the-ground reporting and just the act of being on the border, even briefly, makes all the difference in the kind of story. Visiting reporters can see for themselves the border is not a wide-open no man's land overrun with criminals. Yes, there are problems with smuggling and contraband. That is a fact of life for all borders, but the region is also home to vibrant border communities. They can also see the direct impact of border policies on people and actually talk to and quote some of those people on the border.

KC: What is the most important story happening on the border today?

Angela Kocherga reports from the field (Courtesy)

AK: I'd say the humanitarian crisis and crackdown designed to deter migrants, including family separation, sending asylum seekers to Mexico to wait for a decision from a U.S. immigration court and Mexico's deployment of the National Guard troops to stop migrants from other countries from crossing into the U.S. both at the southern and northern borders. The asylum process has been changed in a short period of time in dramatic ways.

The other big story is the rise of hate groups focused on the border embodied in the alleged gunman from the Dallas area who drove 600 miles and more than 10 hours to in his words "kill Mexicans" and stop the “Hispanic invasion." After repeated warnings by the president and others about an "invasion," the  attack we suffered came from within. We all must do more reporting on this threat.

KC: What do you hope to achieve with your reporting of the border?

AK: I have been privileged to tell the stories of the borderland and beyond deeper in Latin America. I am grateful to my beautiful, brilliant mother who raised me in both the U.S. and Mexico. Because of that experience, I am bilingual, bicultural and binational and have made it my goal as a journalist to serve as a bridge of understanding -- especially during these divisive, troubling times.

KC: What does it mean to you to receive this award?

AK: I am deeply honored to be a Maria Moors Cabot medalist. I'm humbled to be among the many great journalists who came before me representing the best of the Americas. This award is also a tribute to the many people who have entrusted me to tell their stories, especially the people of the borderland.


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