By Martin do Nascimento
A new journalism program at a U.S. university is seeking to train young reporters to cover that country’s border region with Mexico.
In August, long-time border-region journalists Alfredo Corchado and Angela Kocherga joined the faculty at the Arizona State University (ASU) Cronkite School of Journalism to train graduate and undergraduate students as part of the new program.
“I started and we hit the ground running,” Kocherga said. “We have a student looking at banking along the border, another student looking at issues of sex trafficking. We’re going to be doing some stories about the impact of the peso exchange rate on border communities and how it’s helping and hurting.”
Students in the program already have produced multimedia stories on a traditional piñata store in Phoenix and the impact of exchange rates on American consumers travelling to Mexico.
A Tweet by Corchado also revealed that students interviewed the head of the Mexican Consulate in Phoenix earlier this month.
Covering the border-region is different from other places, said Kocherga, and it’s important that students learn new ways of reporting.
“You can’t find a lot of sources online. You can’t Google someone if you’re doing an immigration story and you’re trying to find an immigrant. A lot of face-to-face contact is very important. People need to know you and trust you,” she said.
The announcement of the program comes at a time when transnational migration has become a hot-topic in international news as well as U.S. national politics, and as observers say that reporting on the border region is severely lacking.
In 2014, researchers from The University of Arizona published a study describing the region as having “major disruptions in border reporting where news ‘blackouts’ exist amid pockets of lawlessness.”
Corchado and Kocherga are two reporters with considerable experience working in the region; both have covered the area for more than 20 years. Corchado is the current Mexico bureau chief for The Dallas Morning News and Kocherga is the border bureau chief for KHOU, a CBS-affiliated television station in Houston, Texas.
Per the ASU initiative, Corchado and Kocherga will teach bilingual courses on covering the borderlands and students’ work will be published by Cronkite News, where the two now serve as editors.
Cronkite News is the digital media outlet of ASU’s School of Journalism and the news division of Arizona PBS, which merged in 2014. The school is known for applying a teaching-hospital method of instruction, Kocherga said.
“We’re also going out into the field; we have a border trip planned for next week to take the students down to the border and show them: here’s how we’ve done it, here’s how to source, here’s how to think about these issues and how to find people to include in your stories.”
Safety is a chief concern, but Kocherga says that it isn’t something to deter student reporting.
“If there’s a particular time or situation that makes it unsafe to go to a particular place, we won’t go and we’re certainly not going to send students into dangerous areas,” she said.
“This is an undercovered area and there are plenty of stories to do that have nothing to do with drug violence or crime. In fact, our mission is to expand beyond that all of that.”
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.