Reporting migration as a human story: tips from our journalists
For the media, it sometimes feels like crossing a border changes who someone is- from someone of inherent value and dignity, to a small point in a large crowd, who’s rights are in turn diluted.
Does crossing a border transform you?
Otherwise, how could a group of people suddenly be referred to as a natural phenomenon, like a flood, influx, or a wave? How could we ignore – or even applaud – when people are imprisoned indefinitely for exercising their right to seek asylum? How could it not be a front-page scandal when we learn that European forces are beating, starving, and in some cases outright murdering people whose only crime was to cross a border?
At Unbias the News, we believe that underrepresentation can lead to misinformation, and this has been the case with migrants, who are notably absent from major newsrooms. In our newsroom, the majority of us are migrants. This means we are favorably inclined towards stories that see migrants as they actually are: people, whose essential characters and rights don’t magically transform when they cross an imaginary line.
That is why we were pleased to recently have two different pieces that discussed migration topics, written by people who themselves had at one point migrated: Detained Davincis by Gabriela Ramirez and Little Help by Ignacio Landivar.
We invited the two authors to join us in a discussion on Twitter Spaces about covering migration, and through our conversation, they developed some critical points that more journalists should keep in mind when covering this subject.
Here are some of the top tips we developed in our conversation with Landivar and Ramirez:
Disrupt the narrative
As members of the press it is not our duty to amplify government narratives or justifications for the actions towards migrants. “Journalists are usually repeating and using the same language used by politicians in their speeches. This is a real problem because their language is not only inaccurate but also discriminatory,” notes Ramirez
When lumping migrants into an indistinguishable group, it’s hard to understand the background of why they have arrived. Often, there is a fascinating story as to why people migrate to certain countries over others, and what circumstances compelled them to leave. “Migration stories should look at the whole process of migrants from where they start their journey until the integration process in the new country,” says Ramirez.
Use proper terms and proportions
“When we only use words like ‘migrant’, ‘refugee’ and ‘asylum seeker’ to describe people, we identify them only by their experiences and ignore the other aspects of their lives that make them who they are. Adding words like ‘illegal’ (e.g. ‘illegal migrant’) adds a criminal element to this, distorting the reality of migration and misrepresenting people who migrate,” says Landivar. Similarly, proportions can distort, adds Ramirez: “Overflowing”, “chaos”, “avalanche”… all these words used in migration coverage to describe a crisis that doesn’t really inform.”
Don’t artificially group people together
Anti-immigrant forces often want to paint a picture of immigrants as a homogenous group of wrong-doers. In reality, there are so many different forces beyond today’s migration patterns that it doesn’t make sense to assume that people have anything in common at all just because they share a migration status.
Understand immigrants as people with challenges that go beyond migration
Assuming that one’s immigration status is not the most interesting or relevant thing about them goes a long way towards reporting on immigrants as people.
More migrants in the newsroom
People who have migration experiences bring invaluable knowledge and context to the newsroom, and help organizations to get the story right. “I not only understand the circumstances that lead people to move abroad, but I also share their experiences, know the problems and processes they went through to come here, and because immigrants tend to build networks to provide help for each other,” Landivar notes. “Migrants must have their space in international media and consider them as an essential part of the work of reporting on these issues,” concurs Ramirez.
Stay tuned to Unbias the News as we continue to explore new ways to cover migration from an undercovered angle: the human one.
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