For once-jailed journalist, the struggle is not over

September 26, 2018
Category: Newsletters

UMich community, librarians are helping a threatened journalist make case to stay in the U.S.; the empty promise of Apple News; a Minnesota reporter who reimagined her city

Journalists were scandalized when the Trump administration jailed an award-winning Mexican journalist in Texas and sought to extradite him to the homeland he fled after death threats.

In July, Emilio Gutiérrez Soto seemed to have had a happy ending. He was freed from an El Paso detention facility after his case was championed by the National Press Club, and he moved north to attend a prestigious mid-career journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan.

But a hearing remains in October before a immigration judge in Texas, who has doubted Gutiérrez Soto's work or his reason to fear persecution if deported. Judge Robert Hough, disregarding investigations into the Mexican army's role in threatening Gutiérrez Soto's life after his reporting of soldiers' theft from migrants, asked for proof — clips — that he had actually been a journalist.

To that end, librarians and translators have worked to unearth three decades of his journalism from local outlets in Mexico's northern Chihuahua state.

Molly Molloy, a research librarian at New Mexico State, searched through an online database to recover 144 of his bylined stories. And this weekend, more than 60 Spanish-language translators have signed up for a "translate-a-thon" that seeks to compile an English-language portfolio of Gutiérrez Soto's work for the court.

Is there a sense of urgency? "Absolutely," said Julie Evershed, director of the University of Michigan's Language Resource Center and organizer of the weekend effort in Ann Arbor. She has had 150 translators of all languages volunteer.

Unlike other judges, Justice Department immigration judges place the burden of proof on the asylum-seeker. In the El Paso district, more than 95 percent of asylum requests are denied, although requests in some other districts are granted about half the time. An attempt to change the venue from Texas to Michigan was denied.

Lynette Clemetson, director of Michigan's Knight-Wallace Fellowships for Journalists, said the effort to surface the journalist's work, plus the Michigan community support and his skill-set, bolster the drive for justice for Gutiérrez Soto, who won a press freedom award from the National Press Club.

Gutiérrez Soto is studying press freedom and security at Michigan, two issues he dealt with after writing about the army theft from migrants. Mexico, along with Syria and Afghanistan, is among the world's deadliest for journalists.

A 2009 story about him spoke of the fear he faced after he wrote about the army's theft. "He wrote an accurate news story," wrote journalist Charles Bowden. "He did not know that was dangerous because he thought the story was very small and unimportant. He was wrong and that was the beginning of all his trouble.''

His studies these days have additional relevance.

“If the judge deports him, he will be killed," said Clemetson, a veteran of NPR, The New York Times and The Washington Post. "It’s as simple as that.”

Quick hits

WHO’S SPONSORING POLITICAL ADS?: Common Cause and the Campaign Legal Center have filed a brief in federal court urging Maryland to enforce its law requiring disclosure of sponsors of online political ads. The Washington Post, Baltimore Sun and other local newspapers have opposed the measure. “Democracy dies in darkness. That is why the institutions that play a critical role in shining a light in our democracy should be leading the way with transparency in political advertising on their platforms,” said Erin Chlopak, a former senior FEC official and a senior legal counsel at the CLC. 

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY: A Washington Post spokesperson, asked for a response, referred me to Seth D. Berlin, representing the newspaper publishers. Berlin said last night that Maryland law already requires political advertisers to disclose their spending and to include their identities in their ads, and the newspapers in Maryland publish those “authority lines” without objection. So what's the objection? "This law imposes on newspapers all manner of additional and unnecessary obligations that do not provide any new information to voters," Berlin contends. "The Act allows the Government to tell newspapers what to publish, regulates far more speech — and speakers — than necessary, is filled with vague provisions that are impossible to follow, and allows courts to issue prior restraints on newspapers, all of which are patently unconstitutional."

Philadelphia murders
Screenshot via Helen Ubiñas

GETTING RESULTS: Last year, Philadelphia columnist Helen Ubiñas urged her city to "look at the faces” of teens gunned down in Philly. This week, a billboard inspired by that column went up, with the faces of 26 teens. 

SWIPE UP: News publishers are using Snapchat to encourage younger readers to vote, TechCrunch’s Josh Constine reports. The publishers include The Washington Post, Mic, Vice and NowThis.

WILL ARC USHER IN AMAZON-LIKE DOMINANCE?: The Washington Post's popular publishing system is expanding to take a role for other publishers in both subscriptions and ads, Nieman Lab's Ken Doctor reports. The ad system should be up by 2019, he said. A competitor, WordPress, is developing a cloud-based content management system on WordPress.com.

NIRVANA, ALMOST: With the implosion of news publishers' readership from Facebook, Apple News has emerged as a new traffic driver. The problem: Where is the money? "Slate makes more money from a single article that gets 50,000 page views on its site than it has from the 54 million page views it has had on Apple News this calendar year," writes Slate's Will Oremus.

RECOMMENDED: I’m still working my way through The Nieman Reports 80th anniversary issue, but it is a joy. Eighty past Nieman fellows talk about the stories that inspired them, written by the likes of Susan Faludi, Barry Bearak, Dorothy Thompson and Francisco Goldman.

MOVES: The Atlantic has hired Edward-Isaac Dovere, the chief Washington correspondent at Politico, as a staff writer focusing on the Democrats and the 2020 presidential race. … Christina Rexrode has been named deputy banking editor at The Wall Street Journal.

PODCASTS: Vox Media has announced a new slate and new seasons for podcasts, including for those with Kara Swisher and Anil Dash. Former "This American Life" producer Jane Marie has a series for Stitcher on multi-level marketing schemes, The Dream, that has cracked the Top 10 iTunes chart.

ALSO ON THE TOP 10: “Last Seen,” from The Boston Globe and WBUR, on the unsolved 1990 theft of 13 irreplaceable artworks from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and “The City,” an ambitious co-production from Wondery and USA Today focusing on how an illegal dump was created stealthily in a poor Chicago neighborhood.

RELATED: Why is trash and hazardous waste dumped in poor neighborhoods? Chloe Reichel of Journalist’s Resource rounds up the research, and finds Superfund sites linked to 1) gerrymandered districts; 2) predominantly African American neighborhoods.

R.I.P. BARBARA FLANAGAN: This 44-year reporter, editor and columnist had higher dreams for Minneapolis's downtown and historic preservation than many of its public servants did. “She inspired, prodded, scolded and relentlessly made us believe we could take a perfectly good Midwestern city and will it to become the Star of the North,” former mayor R.T. Rybak told the Star Tribune. And much of her vision, like sidewalk cafes and an indoor mall shielded from the elements, came true. She died on Monday at age 94.

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