CBIG: Doing Backpack Journalism in Migratory Hot Spots

The attached PowerPoint presentation describes the visual research, news gathering and safety techniques that have been tried by the four-year-old informal Cross-Border Issues Group / Grupo Fronterizo (CBIG). As an informal group, much like Viscom, CBIG enables small bi-national groups of journalism students and faculty to gather information in migration hot spots in the Southwestern United States, Mexico and Central America and use the research for a variety of purposes. The journalist and academic researchers travel to remote places, which some might consider dangerous, to conduct on-site visits and interviews with migrants in transit; honest and corrupt law enforcement and immigration officials; smugglers; NGO and shelter workers; and farmers, ranchers, and other border residents. Besides the obvious educational purposes, another significant purpose of these journalistic and researcher efforts is to record primary source materials at hot spots that are often neglected by mainstream news media and make those materials and understandings developed by the participants available for a variety of journalistic and research purposes, including radio reports, academic presentations, Web site videos, print and multimedia reports, and presentations to policymakers. In some instances simply bringing a bi-national team of student journalists and researchers to a site can create sufficient publicity to bring attention to ongoing abuses.

CBIG students and faculty rely on information gathering strategies that require identifying and utilizing trust-worthy interpreters and formants; doing “on-“ and “off-the-record” interviews with migrants, NGO personnel, bureaucrats, business people involved in migrant transport, and law enforcement officials; and photographing, videotaping, and collecting on-site information. In many instances sources need to be protected by eliminating identifying information from sourced reports and through voice or facial distortions of recordings.

Information is gathered and triangulated from various sources to develop an in-depth understanding of migratory realities. Such understandings require patient, labor-intensive longitudinal reporting efforts to produce stories that reflect “on the ground” realities. Such reporting often goes against the buzz of mainstream media accounts that tend to have their agenda set by political or rhetorical agendas, rather than on-the-scene reporting.

CBIG has attempted to release information in ways that improve migration and human rights policies in Mexico, the United States and Central America. Toward this end, CBIG researchers have disseminated findings through the Mexican and U.S. media; via various NGOs, universities, and traditional academic venues; through social media and Web sites; and in “on-the-record“ and “off-the-record” debriefings and back-channel communications with government officials and policy makers.

The CBIG Website:

Presenters: Richard J. Schaefer and Carolyn Gonzales, Univ. of New Mexico

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