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.