Across the country, newsrooms are using crowdsourcing to cover immigration
On Saturday, as ripples of President Trump’s refugee ban began making news, Los Angeles Times Business Editor Kimi Yoshino suggested a different way to cover the story.
Yoshino, who is married to an Iraqi refugee and whose family was detained at internment camps in World War II, saw people sharing their own stories on social media. Her idea: Let’s do something that captures that emotion.
On Saturday, the L.A. Times put out a call for people’s reactions to the news. Their collection, which ran the same day, shows a collage of fear, joy, anger, respect, sadness and support.
“This is about displaying a diversity of experiences,” said Alexandra Manzano, director of audience engagement, “but it’s also about us building trust and relationships with our readers.”
Related Training: Covering Immigration from the Border to the Heartland
While the refugee ban and protests at airports made news throughout the weekend, here’s how a few news organizations across the country told the stories of their immigrant communities.
Los Angeles Times
The L.A. Times’ immigration stories are part of a larger push over the last few years to crowdsource its reporting on social media.
They checked in after the Pulse nightclub shooting, when Trump became the Republican presidential nominee and after he was elected. They asked people what it’s like to be Muslim now and why people marched after Trump’s inauguration.
“It’s really become a rich trove for us in terms of finding sources, hearing from more people, representing more people, finding more story leads and also to just be able to dive deep into the complexity of our country right now,” Manzano said.
Responses to the callouts vary, but one from Election Day received more than 5,000 replies. The format works best when the L.A. Times is asking for an emotional reaction to an issue, said Deputy Managing Editor Megan Garvey.
The invitation to engage happens at the beginning of the reporting process, helping the newsroom see what matters to its audiences, Manzano said. On Monday, the Times was examining what they’d heard for follow-ups.
They have run print pieces based on what they’ve heard and often use vignettes from the responses on different social networks. They create databases from them that help reporters find different voices in the community, too.
What’s happening now with immigration is very much a local story in L.A., a city that’s comprised mostly of immigrants, Garvey said.
“You want people to feel like we’re telling their stories and like they can see themselves reflected in what we do.”
Like many journalists around the country, Connor Sheets has watched newsroom resources dry up over time. Now, the Al.com investigative reporter is trying to build a network to keep coverage of diverse communities from drying up, too.
Sheets, a fellow at the Reynolds Journalism Institute, is working on a program to find and train people connected to different demographic groups. Those people will serve as deputies, communicating what they’re seeing with the newsroom through a messaging platform called GroundSource.
Sheets is trying to find deputies in several communities, including the rural poor and undocumented immigrants. He doesn’t want to rely on organizations or advocacy groups, preferring community members willing to work as a bridge for the newsroom.
Sheets has 30 deputies already, six of which are assigned to immigration. They help establish relationships, tear down language barriers and help reporters understand how issues are playing out in that community.
He hasn’t tested out how it all works, although it would have been helpful last weekend, he said. He’s hoping he can prove that the approach is scaleable so other journalists can use it, too.
The main goal is to create a way for journalists to know what’s happening in different communities from people willing to help them stay connected, he said.
“It’s eyes and ears,” he said.
KQED was preparing to cover possible changes to a separate immigration policy when the executive order dropped into the news cycle over the weekend. So, the San Francisco-based public radio station adapted a form they’d created to capture those stories, too.
So far, they’ve gotten about 50 responses and have already used some in their reporting, said Engagement Editor Miranda Leitsinger. They have some ideas for presentation, such as a photo series, “but the form has elicited so many interesting responses that we’ll need to huddle and see if we want to build out a special based around these,” she said. “The Bay Area is so diverse and you can see that in the stories people shared.”
Immigration has always been important to their audiences, Leitsinger said. A January press conference on immigration was one of their most popular Facebook Live broadcasts.
“Why it’s even more important now is twofold: to ensure that our audience has accurate information about policy changes that will impact their lives and to show the real-life impact of these changes by providing in-depth coverage to — and of — our community.”
The Dallas Morning News
Hannah Wise was unplugging and having a regular day off on Saturday until she decided to peek into the newsroom Slack channel at The Dallas Morning News.
There, she saw news of travelers being detained at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport and protests in response. Wise, engagement editor, saw an opportunity to hear from the community.
She quickly built a form asking immigrants in Texas to share their stories.
It felt like a longshot on Saturday night when she put the call out on social networks and embedded it onto breaking stories. She worried when she saw the L.A. Times and The New York Times putting out similar calls. But, she reminded herself, that doesn’t matter for the Morning News’ audience.
By Monday, they had almost 50 responses from people from 29 countries.
That might not sound huge for a metropolitan area with more than 7 million people. But those are almost 50 people that could be sources on the current news, updates to the immigration policy allowing childhood arrivals to stay in the U.S. and other changes. And the Morning News found them in organically instead of relying on an immigration agency or advocacy organization as go-betweens, Wise said.
She heard back from immigrants from Uzbekistan, Mexico, Germany, Peru, even a former Iraq army translator whose Minnesota-based brother and family were stuck in Iraq because of the ban.
She planned to write each, thank them for responding, ask for more stories and collect a round-up of their responses.
News of the ban continued making headlines Tuesday, but tonight, the president plans to make his nomination for the Supreme Court. It will be another day of huge news that could easily overshadow the days of huge news that have come before it.
Wise isn’t just focused on how the Morning News covers the breaking news, though. Just like her community, she’s paying attention to what happens with those stories on days two, three, four and beyond.
“We’re still going to really care about this story,” she said.