Nieman Foundation at Harvard
Postcards and laundromat visits: The Texas Tribune audience team experiments with IRL distribution
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Aug. 2, 2017, 8:19 a.m.
Reporting & Production

Migratory Notes reflects the movement of immigration from fringe topic to key beat

“We’ve noticed a lot of people paying attention to immigration coverage who didn’t report it before, and there’s been a broadening of who’s covering it.”

Migratory Notes wasn’t meant to last this long. The “pop-up immigration newsletter,” launched January 31 at the time Trump announced his travel ban, was intended to help readers — including immigration reporters and those who hadn’t covered the beat previously — make sense of a deluge of news that would, presumably, let up at some point.

Six months later, Daniela Gerson and Elizabeth Aguilera are considering whether Migratory Notes, which comes out every Friday (on Medium and via email), is really still a pop-up. “We initially thought we’d do this for a month, but the flood of news really has not let up,” said Gerson, an assistant professor at California State University, Northridge, and a senior fellow at the Democracy Fund (and a former immigration reporter for The New York Sun). “We’ve also received such overwhelming responses from people saying it’s really useful — initially from journalists, but also from lawyers, policy people, and immigrants themselves.”

“We didn’t come at this with a plan, like, okay, we’re gonna establish a longstanding publication,” said Aguilera, a multimedia reporter for CALmatters. “We thought it was a service that seemed to be needed, and we were going to provide it. It feels pop-up in the sense that both of us are doing this on our free time and playing with it as we go.”

The last six months have marked a “sea change” in U.S. immigration policy, according to a recent report from the nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank Migration Policy Institute: “The move from a tight focus on explicit priorities to enforcement where almost any unauthorized immigrant encountered by immigration officials can be removed is altering behaviors and generating deep anxiety within immigrant communities, both unauthorized and legal.” While the authors of that report note that, so far, the actual increases in immigration arrests “are not as dramatic as [the Trump administration’s] executive orders and other policy pronouncements would indicate,” the executive orders are leading to heightened anxiety and a new wave of coverage of the administration’s actions.

Each issue of Migratory Notes synthesizes a week’s worth of immigration coverage from multiple sources, bringing together links from multiple national and local outlets to offer background on stories like — last week — ICE’s plan to target teenagers, a deadly border crossing, and the Trump administration’s plan to cut federal grants for sanctuary cities. It also includes standout immigration stories, links to selected resources, and job postings. Many of the stories featured are straight news, but some of the most clicked links have been to human interest stories like PRI’s “Homesick? Two immigrant entrepreneurs are creating virtual reunions.

In the way that, in recent months, healthcare has moved beyond wonks to appeal to a broader audience, immigration coverage — which had been in some ways a “fringe beat,” Gerson said — is broadening. “Immigration is a lesson in civics, in some ways, particularly over these past six months — you have the executive branch putting out a lot of different orders and influencing the ways in which different agencies work; you have legislators and the judicial branch responding; you have all the states, and then you have the local level,” Gerson said. “On each of those levels, you also have journalists who have been reporting in different ways. We’ve noticed a lot of people paying attention to immigration coverage who didn’t report it before, and there’s been a broadening of who’s covering it.”

The Washington Post and The New York Times have had immigration reporters at the national level for years, but are now fortifying their teams and hiring more reporters, as well as trying to offer more coverage of rural areas. “Smaller places are also paying attention to the issue,” Aguilera said. “They may not have a dedicated immigration reporter, but they are clearly incorporating that coverage through their politics and courts people” and in some cases through their crime reporters.

Digital-only outlets, too, are increasingly covering immigration. The topic is threaded through Latino Rebels, which is mapping ICE immigration raids. Splinter (née Fusion), Voice of San Diego, and Colorlines have sections of their sites devoted to it. Public Radio International’s Global Nation tells the real-world stories of U.S. immigrants in part through a public Facebook group, Global Nation Exchange, that includes its 2,220-plus members in a conversation on how “cultures blend, clash and overlap in the United States.” There’s The Skimm’s No Excuses: Immigration.

“We’re looking at how these policies are evolving, how they’re being reported on, and the way in which it impacts individuals on the ground through the country — the intersection between the national and the local,” Gerson said. “It’s a quick study on what’s happening.”

Photo of the travel ban march on the Capitol on February 4, 2017, by Masha George used under a Creative Commons license.

Laura Hazard Owen is the editor of Nieman Lab. You can reach her via email ( or Twitter DM (@laurahazardowen).
POSTED     Aug. 2, 2017, 8:19 a.m.
SEE MORE ON Reporting & Production
Show tags
Join the 60,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
Postcards and laundromat visits: The Texas Tribune audience team experiments with IRL distribution
As social platforms falter for news, a number of nonprofit outlets are rethinking distribution for impact and in-person engagement.
Radio Ambulante launches its own record label as a home for its podcast’s original music
“So much of podcast music is background, feels like filler sometimes, but with our composers, it never is.”
How uncritical news coverage feeds the AI hype machine
“The coverage tends to be led by industry sources and often takes claims about what the technology can and can’t do, and might be able to do in the future, at face value in ways that contribute to the hype cycle.”