This article was originally published in The Lenfest Institute’s Solution Set newsletter. Subscribe here.
Local news is in crisis, but the challenges facing newsrooms serving immigrant communities are even greater.
“Our information ecosystem is in distress with news outlets suffering decades of financial decimation; journalists are under attack, both physically and digitally, for trying to deliver critical stories to readers; and disinformation floods communities as people try to reckon with the challenges of coming together on issues of the day,” says a new report from Borderless Magazine, a Chicago-based multilingual nonprofit newsroom covering immigration since 2017.
The magazine surveyed nearly 50 of its readers to better understand how they felt immigration issues were covered in local media and outline strategies for how local newsrooms — in Chicagoland and nationwide — can ensure they are meeting the needs of their communities.
“The magazine’s research found that overall Chicagoans are disappointed in both the quality and quantity of local immigration news. When Borderless asked them to rate Chicago media’s coverage of immigration on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being excellent and 1 being terrible, 68 percent of respondents rated quality of the coverage with a 6 or below,” the survey found.
In order for local news organizations to properly meet the needs of all their readers, reporters must consider what information immigrant communities require, and how they will most effectively be able to receive this information.
Here is an overview of the 10 tips for news organizations to better and more effectively report on immigration. You can read the full report from Borderless Magazine here.
1. Produce more local coverage of immigration
Access to local journalism should not be a privilege, but a right. Unfortunately, immigrants often are not able to find enough consistent reporting on their communities in their local news sources.
“For too long journalists have seen people from immigrant communities as a niche group served by ‘ethnic media’ rather than an important part of their core audience,” the report said.
When immigrant communities do not see themselves regularly represented in local media, they often are forced to turn to national news organizations or they turn to unreliable sources on social media, which makes them ripe targets for misinformation or disinformation.
2. Publish stories in languages other than English
It is not enough to just cover immigration stories more often in local news because when readers are able to receive news relevant to them in their own language, it truly feels as if they are as informed as English speakers.
“In order to increase access to their content and make journalism more equitable, newsrooms should make every effort to translate their content,” the report explained.
It is also important that when a reporter interviews a non-English speaker about immigration, the responses are not lost in translation. Having a translator assisting in the interview process if the journalist does not speak the language of the subject is a great way to ensure the story is told correctly.
3. Hire immigrants and first-generation Americans to report on immigrant communities
The journalism industry is not representative of the diverse communities it is meant to serve.
“Not everyone who reports on immigration needs to be an immigrant. But reporters with immigrant backgrounds have social capital, language skills, and cultural literacy that can give them greater access to and insights about an immigrant community compared to a journalist without that background,” the report said.
77 percent of the survey’s respondents said they thought more news stories should be written by immigrants. More culturally competent reporting ensures more accurate stories.
4. Uplift more diverse voices
Immigrants are often grouped together in the journalism industry, even though immigrant communities are made up of people and cultures from all over the world. Instead of grouping all immigrants together in reporting, journalists need to explore and highlight these diverse stories.
“Instead of painting immigrants with a wide brush, take the time to learn about Chicago’s rich immigrant communities and build up your source list,” the report urges.
Immigrants from Mexico will have different needs in their news than those from the Middle East, for example, so news organizations must keep this in mind when reporting on these topics to ensure all unique needs are met.
5. Invest more time in explaining immigration policy
With immigration rules constantly changing, it is difficult to stay up-to-date and informed about all policies, especially the small ones that are often passed over as insignificant by local news organizations. These changes can directly affect immigrant communities, making it an important topic that deserves more representation in the media.
Sharing the changes in immigration policy and the impacts they cause on families can both calm nerves caused by lack of clear information and deliberate misinformation, as well as allow readers the opportunity to identify areas for needed policy change.
6. Answer audience members’ questions about immigration
Information such as how to apply for visas or find immigration programs is hard for many immigrants to find and local news outlets would be a perfect resource for these questions. By taking into account the needs of this group of readers, news organizations could make a huge impact by explaining how and where to find these opportunities.
“I think the Spanish-speaking media could do a lot more to provide information to people and to provide resources. Like where do you look for a good lawyer? What do you do if you’re undocumented and want to become documented? That’s the kind of information that people need,” Chicago immigrant storyteller Nestor Gomez told Borderless Magazine.
Again, sharing these resources in different languages and allowing non-English speakers a simple and efficient process for finding help can save so much frustration and stress when finding this important information.
7. Focus on the experiences of individual immigrants
The media has tended to focus on the negative stories related to immigration as opposed to the positives these communities have brought to their cities and to the United States. Journalists can paint a completely different picture by focusing on the stories of individual immigrants and their families. Borderless Magazine explains that “focusing on the diverse individual stories of immigrants journalists can produce more accurate and truthful reporting.”
By only focusing on the negative side of a topic as large as immigration, news organizations are encouraging stereotypes. Sharing the positive stories as well can help their readers humanize the concept of immigration and form more informed opinions about the topic.
8. Investigate the complex systems that impact immigrants
For the most part, the few reporters who are covering immigrantion have not been covering all parts of this complex topic. Without background knowledge in the law and history supporting our immigration system, it is difficult for journalists to fully understand and cover the extent of this system in the United States.
“The United States has the largest immigration detention system in the world,” Borderless Magazine shared while urging reporters to learn and report on all areas of the complex immigration system.
The most effective way for news organizations to properly report on immigration is by ensuring there is a reporter who has the knowledge to specialize in immigration instead of relying on reporters specializing in criminal justice or politics to cover these topics.
9. Develop relationships, not fixers
Journalists in the United States on immigrant community leaders as unpaid fixers to assist with fact checking and finding sources to interview. Instead, they should see community leaders as trusted sources that they can build a relationship with. If a reporter does not speak the language of the people being interviewed, it is important to hire an interpreter to ensure the integrity of the interview.
These more transactional types of relationships affect the accuracy and legitimacy of the reporting.
10. Respect the humanity and vulnerability of sources
It is crucial for journalists to keep in mind that they are reporting about humans and consider the effect that the words they use can have. Terms such as “illegal immigrants” and “surge of immigrants” can be disparaging and can dehumanize the story.
“Reporters and photographers should be conscious of power differences that exist between them and the people they cover,” the report explains while encouraging reporters to make sure the people they interview understand the reporting process and are comfortable, the report suggests.
It is also important for reporters to consider and ensure the safety of the people they interview, using precautions such as not including their name or photo if it will endanger them. Before reporting on immigration, journalists must always remember the importance of the topic and the lives of the people involved in the story.
Lead image: Borderless Magazine’s Diane Bou Khalil interviews members of the Rohingya community gathered at Warren Park on Oct. 20, 2020 in Chicago, Ill. Half the members gathered were there to vote for the very first time after being denied the right in their native Myanmar. The others were there in support and to learn about the voting process. Photo by Michelle Kanaar/Borderless Magazine