January 13, 2021

Borderless Magazine, a Chicago-based nonprofit news outlet, has released a new report that details how journalists can better meet the needs of immigrant communities. 

“We’ve seen, as journalists, a lot of local outlets that used to cover immigrants and immigration, close. At the same time, there have been so many immigration stories and critical changes happening, so we saw a huge gap,” said Nissa Rhee, executive director of Borderless Magazine. “In talking to people when we’re doing our stories and interviewing people, we are hearing from communities over and over again (of) their disappointment in how local media is covering immigration issues and their communities.”

The report, titled “The State of Immigration News in Chicago,” is based on a series of listening sessions and a survey the multilingual magazine conducted last summer. 

Rhee’s hope is that the report is widely read in Chicago, particularly by other outlets. There are 10 key takeaways that can also apply to newsrooms outside of Chicago and elsewhere in the United States. The report suggests journalists should:

  • Produce more local coverage of immigration 
  • Publish stories in languages other than English
  • Hire immigrants and first-generation Americans to report on immigrant communities
  • Uplift more diverse voices
  • Invest more time in explaining immigration policy
  • Answer audience members’ questions about immigration
  • Focus on the experiences of individual immigrants
  • Investigate the complex systems that impact immigrants
  • Develop relationships, not fixers
  • Respect the humanity and vulnerability of sources

Two findings stood out to Rhee, who in 2017 helped found Borderless Magazine, initially a storytelling project called 90 Days, 90 Voices (with Sarah Conway, Alex Hernandez, and Michelle Kanaar): the real desire for multilingual coverage, and focusing more on complex systems that impact immigrants.

“I think there’s this misperception among local outlets, not just in Chicago but nationally, that immigration is something that happens in D.C. It’s something you’ll cover if you have a reporter in D.C. — that’s where all the policies happen,” Rhee said. “Where in reality, all of these systems are working together: our local criminal justice system … there are detention centers throughout our region. There are a lot of law enforcement groups working together.”

A graphic guide by Danbee Kim for Borderless Magazine, on stories in the as-told-to method. (Courtesy: Borderless Magazine)

Rhee said it’s critical to understand that immigration is not just a national story and should be covered by all local outlets.

For Kanaar, art director for Borderless Magazine, none of the takeaways were surprising, but one did emerge as often left out of the conversation: hiring immigrants and first-generation Americans to report on immigrant communities.

“We’re trying to promote equity, not only in our coverage, but also in our industry,” Kanaar said. “And the way that happens is when you hire people that are either immigrants or people from marginalized communities and then you give them opportunities to move up into positions of leadership.”

Kanaar said many outlets don’t have a designated immigration beat reporter even though there’s so much ground to cover. The documentary photojournalist added that these journalists parachute into stories, often without giving proper context or seeking diverse voices.

“We often hear about immigration stories that kind of sound the same: it’s the same person experiencing the same thing, but we know that everybody has different experiences, different backgrounds, different stories,” she said. “They’re coming from so many different places for so many different reasons.”

You can read the full report here. Leer en español.

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Amaris Castillo is a writing/research assistant for the NPR Public Editor and a contributor to Poynter.org. She’s also the creator of Bodega Stories and a…
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