Cross-border collaboration between Univision and El Faro introduces Central American refugees' stories to wider audience

  • By Guest
  • December 11, 2017

By Sierra Juarez

Over the span of one year, U.S.-based Spanish-language broadcaster Univision and Salvadoran digital investigative site El Faro partnered to investigate and map the experience of Central American refugees. The result is a bilingual four-part multimedia project released in October, “From Migrants to Refugees: The New Plight of Central Americans,” which profiles several refugees from the region at different stages in their journey to safety.

The cross-border collaboration explored the reasons behind the mass displacement of refugees from the Northern Triangle—Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras — to Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica and the U.S. The pieces also included a look into how the increase has affected migrant shelters in these neighboring countries.

The collaboration between Univision and El Faro began during last year’s Gabriel Garcia Marquez festival in Medellin, Colombia. There, journalists from El Faro said they noticed a pattern of refugee migration from Central America, which they wanted to report.

In the U.S. alone, 70,407 family units and 46,893 unaccompanied children from the Northern Triangle were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2016, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The government agency said that 2014 and 2016 were the first years that the number of Central Americans apprehended on this border outnumbered apprehensions of Mexican citizens.

However, as the Associated Press (AP) reported, Mexico has seen an increase in refugee applications most from the Northern Triangle at the same time that immigration to the U.S. has decreased. The latter occurred alongside aggressive rhetoric from the Trump administration regarding immigration enforcement. The AP added that refugee applications from the Northern Triangle increased in Belize, Costa Rica and Panama in 2016.

Univision News' Editor-in-Chief Borja Echevarria told the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas he felt the partnership with El Faro would be a perfect match.

The transnational collaboration is divided into four "books" that include text, audio and video. (Screenshot)

“They could bring to the table their expertise in Central America, in violence and a text-driven approach in reporting,” Echevarria said. “And we could bring our knowledge in the United States and in Mexico, our visual know-how and our capacity of developing a more sophisticated product in the execution.”

The comprehensive project is separated into four parts called “Books.” Each section takes upward of 40 minutes to read, but it is accompanied with an audio feature that allows readers to listen along to the piece.

The partnership was created in part to bring important coverage of Central America to a larger audience. To do so, the stories are available in both English and Spanish. Echevarria said that he thinks providing content in two languages amplifies engagement with stories—which he feels is especially important for underreported issues like this one.

“There is not enough knowledge of these issues, and I believe they are under-covered in the U.S. media,” Echevarria said. “So if we translate the stories into English and use our social media strength to distribute them, we can broaden the impact of stories like this one.”

The project embodies what El Faro is best known for—in-depth, investigative work covering Central America. It also includes several multimedia components, which is often found in Univision’s works. In the first book of the series, “Escaping Death, Asylum Seekers Surge in Mexico,” readers are greeted with an animated video, which tells the brief story of a refugee who faced losing his son in El Salvador. The first book is punctuated with other refugee-focused graphics, photo slideshows and mini-documentaries. The multimedia components throughout the pieces bolster the writing and capture the realities of being a refugee from the Northern Triangle.

The work came to fruition through a multimedia team who joined journalists to tackle the project. Óscar Martínez, award-winning journalist and founder of El Faro’s investigative unit, wrote the first section. Carlos Martínez, another El Faro journalist and winner of the Ortega y Gasset Journalism Award, wrote the second book. In addition, Maye Primera, Univision editor for Latin America, wrote the last two books in the series.

During the year-long process of producing this project, Echevarria said his newsroom had to balance covering breaking news like natural disasters and the in-depth reporting required for the project.

“We’re not a huge newsroom, and we need to adapt to the news cycle while we try to keep these kinds of projects alive,” Echevarria said.

The four-part longform report from El Faro and Univision includes audio and graphic storytelling elements. (Screenshot of YouTube video)

While some of the collaboration between the two newsrooms took place in person, the majority did not. The newsrooms often discussed through Skype and co-edited each other’s articles on Google Docs.

Echevarria said that it’s difficult to create a large project with a team that spans across the world. But, he says, Univision would welcome the chance for more cross-border investigations and collaborations in the future. “We’ve got a lot to give and to learn,” Echevarria said.

Branching out from Univision’s current focus on U.S. and Mexican coverage and becoming further involved with Central American and South American reporting are additional reasons behind wanting to continue cross-border collaborations, according to Echevarria.

“Strategically, we want to grow in Latin America, not through competition with local outlets, but working together,” Echevarria said. “We want to work on projects that resonate in the whole continent, that surpass borders.”

*Sierra Juarez is a student journalist at The University or Texas at Austin. She’s pursuing a double degree in journalism and religious studies, with an emphasis on Latin American and Caribbean religions. She’s also working toward a minor in Spanish and a certificate in Latino Media Studies. She hopes to one day report on Mexico and South America. She currently interns at the Austin American-Statesman.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.

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