February 9, 2021

Over the course of former President Donald Trump’s administration, the team behind Migratory Notes worked hard to keep up with the biggest immigration news in the U.S. The newsletter kept followers informed about everything from immigration reform to family separations, packaged neatly under bold, concise subheads delivered to their email inbox.

“The pace of changes, the executive orders, the rhetoric, was really unprecedented in the past four years,” said Daniela Gerson, an assistant professor of journalism at California State University, Northridge. She launched Migratory Notes in 2017 with Elizabeth Aguilera because of their deep mutual interest in immigration news.

Gerson said she’s most proud of putting out what she described as the consistency and, at times drudgery, of a weekly report . Among the stories that do particularly well are “handy guides” that break down complex immigration laws and policies. “When something new is shaping the lives of tens of thousands or even millions, it’s clear to us that journalists — as well as local lawmakers, academics, and advocates — are scrambling to understand,” Gerson said. “So when we published links to guides to topics such as immigration reform or return to Mexico or the travel ban, we always find lots of people click on them.”

The pop-up newsletter, which rounds up the most pressing stories published about immigration, drew not only the interest of high-profile immigration journalists, but also of policymakers, academics, concerned citizens and lawyers.

“And suddenly we had an audience, which kept us going, because what we kept hearing from people was how useful it was to them in their work,” said Aguilera, who covers health and social services for CalMatters, a nonprofit newsroom based in Sacramento, California.

The project, which received financial support early on from the Emerson Collective, is now pieced together by a small team and written by Anna-Catherine Brigida, a freelance journalist based in El Salvador. It is approaching 5,000 subscribers who read from just about every state and more than a dozen countries. (Those interested in receiving the newsletter on Thursdays can subscribe here.)

Since President Joe Biden was inaugurated last month, he has signed several executive orders that take aim at his predecessor’s hard-line immigration policies. With the U.S. under a starkly different administration, Gerson and Aguilera spoke to Poynter in late January about the direction their rapidly growing newsletter is headed in next. The co-founders hope to build on the influence of Migratory Notes into concrete support for those covering the beat through town halls and research.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Gerson said they hosted a town hall for immigration reporters, and a few months before that conducted a survey of immigration journalists with Columbia Journalism Review.

“Both of those pointed toward a real need for knowledge sharing amongst immigration journalists. There’s Education Writers Association, there’s Kaiser Health News, there’s the Center for Healthcare Reporting. There’s support for basically almost every other beat,” Gerson said. “There’s individual support for reporting on immigration issues, but there’s no support organization for immigration journalists. In the four years of covering immigration journalism, we saw certain needs emerge and opportunities, and one was connection amongst immigration journalism and better knowledge-sharing.”

Through a new partnership with Internews, an international nonprofit that works to form healthy media environments, the Migratory Notes team plans to build a knowledge-sharing network of immigration journalists. Their next town hall, on covering Central American migration, will be held this Thursday at 8:30 p.m. Eastern time. (Anyone interested in attending can register here to receive a meeting link.) As of Tuesday nearly 100 journalists have registered. The event will be the first in a series of virtual town halls for immigration journalists.

Another focus for Gerson and Aguilera is to research immigration news deserts, areas of the U.S. that Gerson said has particularly large numbers of immigration workers and essential workers but lack regular immigration news coverage. They want to figure out how they can support local journalists in these areas with training to cover immigration issues. They are looking for new funders to support the work of Migratory Notes.

“What we’ve learned is that people are looking for even more support that we hope to be able to provide and that’s by connecting people with one another, information sharing, and then looking at some of the needs that we’ve noticed as we’ve done Migratory Notes in terms of coverage areas and where people live, but maybe we don’t see a lot of stories coming out or people don’t go there very often,” Aguilera said.

“We’ll continue providing the resource that we’ve been providing, but figuring out what else we can do to support the people who really rely on it.”

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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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