The Seattle Times went beyond the border to bring home immigration stories

Plus the story behind a scandal from Dallas-Fort Worth

August 26, 2019

Until recently, journalists at The Seattle Times covered deportation like it was the final chapter in people’s stories. Thanks to a travel grant from the Pulitzer Center, they found a way to show what happens to those stories after people cross the border to Mexico.

“We’ve been able to better serve our community with more thorough reporting on the impacts of deportation,” Corinne Chin, Erika Schultz and Danny Gawlowski told Poynter. “We’ve also had the opportunity to paint a fuller picture of the immigration debate by publishing a more comprehensive look at asylum-seekers at the border.”

Their ongoing project — plus the story behind a scandal from Dallas-Fort Worth — show the power of local journalism to not just inform, but add meaningful context.

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What’s your newsroom working on? Share the work that you’re proud of, and I’ll reach out if we decide to feature it.

All the answers shared here came through a Google form and emails have been edited for length and clarity.

“The concept of ‘community’ should not be limited by geography, especially as the internet continues to bridge gaps across the globe.”  — Corinne Chin, Erika Schultz and Danny Gawlowski, The Seattle Times

Newsroom: The Seattle Times

Newsroom size: 150

Project: “Beyond the Border”

Who worked on this: Reporting by Tyrone Beason, Corinne Chin and Erika Schultz; editing by project editor Danny Gawlowski, story editor Ray Rivera, design editor Frank Mina, photo editor Fred Nelson, project coordinator Laura Gordon and producer Jeff Albertson.

How did you make this story/series happen? 

Through the support of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and the IWMF, columnist Tyrone Beason, photojournalist Erika Schultz and video journalist Corinne Chin were able to travel to Mexico for this series of stories. The first story, “Beyond the Border: Asylum,” published on Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, online and in print. Upcoming installments will highlight the stories of people deported to Mexico from Washington state.

Screenshot, The Seattle Times

What did you learn from the process?

On the ground, it was particularly striking to see the ripple effects of a lack of access to good legal representation. The right to an attorney does not exist across the border.

As columnist Tyrone Beason wrote, asylum-seekers “who are represented by an attorney are far more likely to win their cases than those who are not; 90% of asylum-seekers without an attorney were denied in 2017. Roughly half of those with attorneys were denied, researchers at Syracuse found.”

In the case of deportees, one can’t help but wonder whether access to better legal representation in America would have changed the outcome. It’s an issue that may be under-reported as it plays out in local news markets.

We also learned a lot about how covering our community should not be limited by geography. Several of the people we have met are Washington state residents. But they have been deported and can no longer return. To tell these stories about our local community, we needed to get out of our geographic region in order to meet with them.

Juan Carlos CQ plays with his youngest child inside a shelter in Tijuana, Mexico. Juan Carlos says he owned a small bakery in El Salvador, and fled the country with his family last autumn after gang members demanded money and threatened their lives when he couldn't pay.

How can other local newsrooms do work like this?

The concept of “community” should not be limited by geography, especially as the internet continues to bridge gaps across the globe. Too often, local newspaper journalists have blinders on while trying to find a “local angle” to an issue. But the reality is that issues like immigration effect everyone, no matter how far the newsroom may be from the southern border. Every American has a place in this story – and it’s up to local newsrooms to help readers understand their roles and their ability to effect change.

Newsrooms should seek out travel grants from the Pulitzer Center. Women journalists should apply for the Adelante Fellowship through the IWMF. And editors should support staff in the application and reporting processes.

Daniela, 19, checks her phone in a shelter in Tijuana. Daniela and a friend talked about the risks women can face in their home country of El Salvador, including sexual assault, violence and death. The women fled and were in the process of applying for asylum. (Photo by Erika Shultz/The Seattle Times)

Did your work result in any changes? 

We have expanded our sophistication in presenting visual journalism and integrating visuals with text. We will be applying and refining these techniques in future projects.

“Readers liked that we provided something useful and meaningful rather than play up the scandal from the crime.” — Valerie Wigglesworth, Community Impact Newspaper, Dallas-Fort Worth region

Newsroom: Community Impact Newspaper, Dallas-Fort Worth region

Newsroom size: 14

Project: Palisades development stalled as criminal trial of Richardson’s former Mayor Laura Maczka unfolds

Who worked on this: Reporting by Olivia Lueckemeyer; graphics by Chelsea Peters; editing by Valerie Wigglesworth

Tell us about this story and how you made it happen.

This story investigates the status of Palisades, a mixed-use development behind a high-profile court case in Richardson, Texas. Federal prosecutors allege developer Mark Jordan offered money, gifts and sex to the then-mayor of Richardson in exchange for her vote on the project. Former mayor Laura Jordan, nee Mazcka, campaigned for office on the promise of no additional apartment construction in Richardson. Despite overwhelming concerns about traffic and density voiced by nearby residents, the Palisades project was ultimately approved to allow 1,090 multifamily units.

Approval of the project came with a $47 million economic incentive deal from the city; however, Community Impact Newspaper found that none of those funds have been claimed by developers. An internal city investigation cleared the mayor of any wrongdoing. After the FBI launched its own investigation, the couple got married. In a federal jury trial, the couple was found guilty in March of corruption-related crimes. However, in May, those convictions were thrown out due to improper conduct between a juror and federal court officer. A retrial is pending.

We took a different approach to this federal criminal trial and focused on the development at the root of the scandal rather than the scandal itself.

Screenshot, Community Impact Newspaper

What did you learn?

Readers liked that we provided something useful and meaningful rather than playing up the scandal from the crime. It started with a good idea and turned into a great story of interest to the community.

How can other local newsrooms do work like this?

Be persistent in reporting and think outside the box. Try different coverage angles. While other media were covering the trial and focusing on the crime, we looked beyond the crime at what happened on the ground with the development.