For many years, Tracey Eaton was a mainstay of The Dallas Morning News’ International Desk. As part of our Mexico City bureau, his courage, skill, imagination and dedication helped establish The News as a dominant force in news coverage of that dynamic country. At one point, he was one of a small handful of reporters who provided American readers with insightful coverage of the emerging importance of Mexico’s violent drug gangs and their ascendancy over their Colombian rivals. In a very real way, his stories accurately predicted the violent consequences of that ascendancy for Americans and Mexicans living along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The interesting thing is, The News almost didn’t hire Tracey. In the fall of 1993, Tracey showed up unannounced in the newsroom, declaring himself a candidate for an opening in our expanding Mexico City bureau. None of us had ever heard of him. But he shoved a fistful of clips and a 10-page list of story ideas in our faces. At that point, we did the only thing we could think of: We took him to lunch.
And the rest, as they say, is history. At the time, Tracey was covering news along the U.S.-Mexico border for the Orange County Register in Southern California. His clips were good, showing an eye for detail, a clarity of language, a cogent mastery of the topic and a range of topics that we liked immediately. But it was his intensity, his determination and his facile mind that ultimately convinced us to cancel interviews with other candidates and give Tracey the Mexico job. We never regretted that decision.
Tracey joined our Mexico bureau just a few months before the Zapatista uprising in the state of Chiapas. The highlight of his coverage occurred when he walked into the jungle unaccompanied in search of the Zapatista army, and walked out several days later with one of the first interviews with the Zapatista leader, Subcomandante Marcos.
That risky, audacious move served in many ways as a blueprint for Tracey’s work in Mexico. He was the perfect foreign correspondent – a keen, inquiring mind overseeing nerves of steel and a cast-iron constitution. Soon, he was named Mexico bureau chief, eventually overseeing four correspondents whose work was cited twice in the 1990s by the Columbia Journalism Review when it designated The News one of the top five newspapers in the United States.Kerry Gunnels
I worked with Tracey for 12 years while we were both at The Dallas Morning News. Tracey was a foreign correspondent in Mexico and Cuba and I was, for most of that time, vice president/managing editor.
Tracey joined the Morning News staff in September 1993. He quickly established himself as an MVP, a top-tier reporter and writer on a talented staff that then numbered nearly 650.
Tracey’s work stood out. For one, he did uncommonly tough stories, sometimes under punishing physical conditions. Whether covering coups or earthquakes, armed conflicts or organized crime, Tracey approached his stories with intelligence, resourcefulness and remarkable stamina. Even after weeks of working in a hostile environment, Tracey remained alert and nimble, consistently producing cogent, clear-headed and compelling accounts of events that unfolded unpredictably, sometimes chaotically.
Tracey also brought penetrating insight and sophistication to his stories. His knowledge of Latin America came in part from years of scholarship. But some of Tracey’s most valuable research came not from books or interviews with politicians and power brokers, but from relationships developed with ordinary people. In Cuba, in Mexico, in Afghanistan and in Haiti, some of Tracey’s most memorable stories involved everyday folks who found themselves caught up in world events.
Indeed, going beyond the “official story” was one of the hallmarks of Tracey’s reporting.
One of Tracey’s biggest reporting challenges was his coverage of Cuba. As bureau chief for one of only three U.S. newspaper organizations with a full-time bureau in Cuba, Tracey felt a special obligation to tell the stories that had been untold for decades.
Some of the reason for Tracey’s success lies with his personal qualities. He is a sincere and genuine person. He is a person of high integrity whose sense of fairness is apparent not only in his reporting, but in his dealings with associates and co-workers. In other words, Tracey is a pleasure to work with.Stu Wilk
I wanted to tell you how glad I am that you came to the Chronicle. You have done a fabulous job here, starting with your work running the Mexico-Border team and then as Metro editor.
The Chronicle is better because of your work. Our staff is stronger, our journalism much improved and our online journalism is terrific. And much of that is due to your leadership.George Haj
I have known Tracey Eaton for about a dozen years and have worked closely with him for much of that time. He is smart, hardworking and personable, and I would not hesitate to recommend him for a job.
When this newspaper decided to open a bureau in Havana, Cuba, we turned to Tracey because he is resourceful, dependable and adaptable. He had already led our largest and most important foreign bureau, in Mexico, and we felt he was the right person to take on a new assignment in an extremely challenging environment. We were not disappointed. Tracey’s reporting was even-handed and painstakingly fiar, sometimes earning him criticism from partisans of this or that position on Cuba, but our readers were well served.
When the newspaper looked for someone to send into Afghanistan to cover the U.S. response after the attacks of Sept. 11, we again turned to Tracey. It was a dangerous and difficult assignment, and Tracey and the photographer who accompanied him were on their own to figure out how to report the news without getting killed. They did an admirable job, providing stirring stories and images from places where few reporters had ventured.
Tracey has handled other difficult assignments as well, in places like Colombia, Haiti and Guatemala.
In my view, Tracey is able to work effectively in such a range of challenging environments because he is even-tempered and treats everyone, from the president to the doorman, with courtesy and respect. When I visited Tracey in Cuba a couple of years ago, I was struck by the sheer number of people he seemed to know – workers in government offices, taxi drivers, food vendors – and who greeted him warmly.Tim Connolly
As editor of The Dallas Morning News, I worked with Tracey in a number of roles. I recruited him from the Orange County Register for a position in our Mexico City Bureau. At the time, he also was being aggressively recruited by the Los Angeles Times.
While at the paper, Tracey quickly rose to bureau chief in Mexico. In this role, he covered with great skill a Mexican presidential race and number other demanding stories.
When our paper persuaded the Cuban government to grant us a bureau in Havana, Tracey was our first, second and third choice for that job. Both in Mexico and later in Cuba, Tracey established a reputation for cutting edge and non-sensational coverage. His work was courageous and sober. As Mexican bureau chief, I asked him to lead his team and cover the country’s presidential race as aggressively as we would cover a Texas governor’s race. He did so. In Cuba, I asked him to try to capture the essence of the country as it existed and also to give our readers a sense of its post-Castro possibility. He succeeded in this mission.
In addition to being a first-rate journalist, Tracey was an able administrator. He handled finances responsibly, and also did a good job overseeing other reporters and freelancers under his direction.
I always found Tracey to be an open, straight-forward colleague; someone you could always rely on to do what he said he would do.Bob Mong