On and Off the Record: The Production of Legitimacy in an Argentine Border Town



Based on ethnographic research in Puerto Iguazú, an Argentine town bordering Brazil and Paraguay, this article explores how journalists maneuver between stories for, on, and off the record to maintain a locally valid boundary between law and crime. Journalists occupy a multifaceted position in the Iguazú community: as residents, they often participate in the informal circulation of legal and illegal goods across the border; as cultural producers, they create representations about it. Coverage relating to informal trade depends on local schemes of legality and legitimacy that juxtapose the rights and rules for those living in this small border community with national legislation, which disadvantages the remote town and serves to obstruct cross-border exchanges. Due to the discrepancy between local understanding of legality and national laws, many potentially newsworthy illegal exchanges are not addressed in the media. On the border, where consensus regarding the legality and legitimacy of many common practices is unstable, this article shows how local news production plays an important part in determining what is legal, illegal, legitimate, or illicit.