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Resources For Writing About The Border: Nuance, Candor And Respect For Migrants’ Voices

Resources for Writing about the Border: Nuance, Candor and Respect for Migrants’ Voices

Writer Sherry Ricchiardi published an important overview of “Resources for Covering Migration and Refugees” on the International Journalists’ Network website in July of last year, here:

The piece links to six excellent journalist-to-journalist essays that emphasize a few recurring points. Notable among these is the need to allow nuance into stories we report on and share informally.

In the extreme circumstances we see at the border today, balanced reporting and advocacy that emphasizes reliability and candor are more important than ever. One long-standing example: the very existence of a group called “Deported Veterans of America” is a scandal. Yet almost all these U.S. military veterans have been convicted of felonies. Good enough reason to deport them? In the view of many, no; but the movement for decency in U.S. border policy and enforcement loses some of its high ground if it avoids uncomfortable facts like these.

Today’s case-in-point: the American citizen arrested crossing into Mexico with a car full of wrapped Christmas presents for children in Matamoros. Much of the coverage leads with the Christmas-day narrative of this American “Santa Mom” being harrassed as part of a large set of ugly policies at the border. But the details are easy to lose sight of, or to bury for the sake of outrage that might not be fully warranted. Because the presents were already wrapped, the car was run through a large X-ray machine that revealed a box of bullets carelessly left by the driver’s husband, after a recent hunting trip. We noted recently that the large majority of guns used in homicides in Mexico orginate in the U.S., and cross the border illegally, heading south. It’s a real concern.

Other key points of guidance for journalists – equally important for social-media posters of all stripes:

  • Many (some argue most) migrants at the U.S. southern border are living through serious trauma. Respect that. Show concern for their experience.
  • Don’t reveal their images, their names or identifying detials without fully informed consent.
  • Make the voices and experiences of migrants themselves the center of your stories about them, rather than the voices of real and supposed experts, or your own voice as a witness or advocate.

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