2016: A Year in News

Mexico Through the Lens of U.S. Media

A visual essay by Alonso Alcocer

The latest U.S. Presidential Election delivered a shocking and unexpected outcome that profoundly shaped the political, social and economic landscape of the country. After the final result became official, many took this as an opportunity to explore and investigate what were the main reasons that could explain its unlikely conclusion. It is safe to say that this campaign had a profound impact in all of us.

As we find ourselves in the midst of a fractured political landscape, I want to take us back to the beginning and I want to share with you a view of the election through the eyes of one of its closest allies: Mexico.

South of the Rio Grande, the bilateral relations between the U.S. and Mexico, suffered a major drawback that has jeopardized years of close cooperation between the North American countries.

In this historical turning point I was part of the international media analysis team of the former President of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto. On a daily basis and throughout the whole year, our team was in charge of monitoring over 200 media outlets from all over the world.

Our main responsibility was to create and maintain a comprehensive database of all the news that were published about the country. This project is based on a subset of that database that covers 67 U.S. media outlets and 7,815 articles.

The most important component of this database is the labelling of the news according to their tendency. The classification system consists on four different categories:  positive negative balanced and informational

In certain occasions, the explicit nature of the headline can provide us with all the information we need so we can determine the category for a particular piece.

While this tends to be true for certain cases, our labelling process requires more context and that means reading the whole content of the articles. Let us explore an example of each category in order to see how that process worked.

What was Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto thinking with his Trump invitation?
Trump vs. ‘Three Amigos’: North America’s leaders meet while the Donald slams NAFTA
DOT tentatively approves Delta, Aeromexico venture for Mexico

Now that we have looked at different examples that can help us understand the workflow and the thought process that goes into the categorization of our articles, we can begin our exploration of the data. What follows is a set of three different visualizations that will distill the year into three main components:

First, a time series visualization that follows the trends of the articles based on their tendency. The second breaks down the year in themes and the way they were perceived during 2016. The final visualization piece looks at the top 24 U.S. publishers of 2016 and the distribution of their coverage based on tendency.

The Year by Tendency

positive: 268
negative: 211
balanced: 146
informational: 159
total: 784

The capture of Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán represented a major victory for the Government and it dominated the narrative during the first months of the year. On February we notice a spike in the negative coverage after the Pope's visit to Mexico. During his trip, the religious leader met with victims of human rights abuses, reflected on the exploitation of migrants and the state of insecurity in the country. Throughout the year the Mexican Peso suffered major drawbacks as the Republican Candidate gained more strength during the Presidential Campaign. This also prompted several corporations to put on hold previously planned investments in Mexico.

On September, after the Mexican President extended an invitation to the Republican Candidate in a desperate attempt to reconcile their contrasting points of view, Mexico became the main focus of international media. This unprecedented event coincided with recent polling results that recorded a new low for the President's popularity. Towards the end of the year we can see a positive resurgence after Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán got extradited to the U.S. Finally, after the victory of the Republican Candidate, many media outlets questioned the viability of his proposition to build a border wall and getting rid of NAFTA, this particular analysis caused the major spike in balanced news towards the end of the year.

The Year by Themes


2371 total
15% positive
51% negative
20% balanced
14% informational

1813 total
22% positive
35% negative
25% balanced
18% informational

1525 total
31% positive
26% negative
28% balanced
15% informational

1446 total
44% positive
20% negative
14% balanced
22% informational

660 total
28% positive
44% negative
23% balanced
5% informational

Despite the fact that this was a very unusual year full with political and diplomatic challenges, the main focal point of the majority of the stories revolved around security issues. Since former President Felipe Calderón declared war against the drug cartels in 2006, thousands of people die every year in what has been an unsuccessful strategy. Several human rights organizations have also pointed out that this war has led to many extrajudicial killings, and forced disappearances. Political stories concentrated on the diplomatic challenges between the U.S. and Mexico and the previously mentioned visit of the Republican Candidate. Even though the state of NAFTA was challenged during the campaign causing the constant fluctuation of the Mexican Peso, several car manufacturers such as VW, BMW, Ford and Toyota reiterated their commitment to invest in the country.

Another positive point during this year was the increasing number of tourists that Mexico received. Despite the damaging rhetoric of the campaign, 2016 saw an increase in the number of U.S. visitors to the country. Finally, the lack of popularity of the President was reflected in the negative coverage of the Office. The image of the President suffered great damage before the visit of Candidate Trump. During the year it was published that he plagiarized his dissertation, the strategy he pursued against the drug cartels did not work and we saw an increase in the number of casualties, and the First Lady was involved in a corruption scandal after she spend some time in the apartment of a wealthy businessman that won a public bidding round to develop a major infrastructure project in Mexico.

The top 24

It is not surprising to see Univision at the top of the list since it is the largest provider of Spanish language content in the U.S. Although they concentrate on generating television content, their website publishes almost daily about the current situation in Mexico. Huffington Post operates in Mexico and the majority of the publications that we gathered are in spanish. La Opinión is the largest Spanish language newspaper in the U.S. and their main readers are located in the California region. Given the number of Mexican immigrants that live there, it is also expected to see this outlet up there in the list. Bloomberg is the first agency that we have in our list that produces their content in English and follows closely the economic side of the country.

The Wall Street Journal is the most balanced and positive amongst the top tier newspapers (NYT, Washington Post, WSJ), whilst the NYT is the most negative even though it publishes less articles than the WSJ over the year. The most important aspect to notice in this graph is the fact that, with the exception of the LA Times and La Opinión, the majority of the news published by the media outlets along border (Arizona Daily Star, San Diego Union Tribune, Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express News) were positive. The main reason behind this trend is the fact that their economies are closely interconnected to Mexico as a consequence on NAFTA, and the population stands against the expropriation of their land by the Federal Government in order to build a border wall.

This work was made possible thanks to the collaboration of my former teammates back in Mexico and my former boss who granted me permission to use the data we gathered during this year.

This work was made by Alonso Alcocer as part of the final project at the Masters of Science in Data Visualization at Parsons School of Design – The New School.