When addressing stories about migrants in journalism, "we have to stop talking about the path because that is killing us," Lucila Rodríguez-Alarcón, general director of the Spanish journalism foundation and platform porCausa, told the Knight Center.
At porCausa, a journalistic and investigative platform on migration from Spain, instead of talking about migration from a human rights approach in its journalistic reports, “we talk about migration from a focus regarding how a lot of impunity is produced in the migratory process and, therefore, a lot of corruption,” Rodríguez-Alarcón said. The idea, she continued, is to stop asking ourselves the same questions about the subject.
The porCausa team is made up of a multidisciplinary group of investigators and journalists who gathered just over six years ago to address social and human rights issues. For three years, it has specialized mainly in migration issues.
Rodríguez-Alarcón, who, in addition to leading porCausa, is an agricultural engineer and political communication specialist, believes that the confluence of various disciplines enriches journalistic investigation.
At first, Rodríguez-Alarcón said, “we had the dilemma of whether to become a media outlet or serve the media; our decision was to serve the media. We are like a mobile newsroom specializing in migration.”
All the content and materials of the porCausa website are free to use, free to download. “In fact, they copy us a lot,” she laughs. “I am very proud of that.”
Although its journalistic contents are produced for a local audience, Spain, its investigations, proposed narratives and the international spaces it convenes to discuss the narrative of migration journalism, are shared with journalists and media in Latin America such as El Faro, in El Salvador; Nómada, from Guatemala; Animal Político and Periodistas de A Pie, of Mexico, among many others in the region.
Likewise, Rodríguez-Alarcón said, porCausa is in constant collaboration with the Gabo Foundation. An example of this is that part of the materials and guides of its report Migrations and New Narratives, published in 2019, were used in the reporting and news workshop on how to tell and investigate migration dictated by renowned Colombian journalist María Teresa Ronderos. This workshop was held during the most recent edition of the important Gabo Festival organized annually by the journalistic foundation of deceased Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez.
PorCausa is a “good reference and a good connector” for journalism that covers migration, Ronderos told the Knight Center. “I believe that they will end up creating the strongest community of migration journalists, helping everyone connect with everyone. They are becoming a good reference for journalists who are going to start or who already cover migration,” Ronderos said.
Sources of funding
PorCausa relies heavily on donations and a membership system. It also receives income from consulting work, services such as technical support, organization of conferences, among others.
“We have a donor base of more than 350, of very varied quantities. Some of them are very, very large. We have two big ones, we have a big, big donor of a lot of money a year that, well, is practically 25 percent of our budget. It is a unique, private donor,” Rodríguez-Alarcón explained.
One of the organizations that helped it to start, in its beginnings, was Open Society Foundations. “We would not be alive without Open Society,” Rodríguez-Alarcón said.
Ronderos, who at that time was director of Open Society Foundations Program on Independent Journalism, recounted the reasons why it decided to support porCausa.
"What we liked was that, first, they take audiences into account," Ronderos said. “They are extremely open to the audience, they are thinking a lot about who they are talking to and I think that on the immigration issue it is, as far as I know, the group that has most thought about how to break the discourse that always gets locked in 'bubbles,’” she said.
On migratory issues, Ronderos explained, there is always the side of those who are anti-migrants and on the other side those who are pro-migrants, “and those groups never speak, and they have tried to develop a very original narrative, very beautiful, very original, that transgresses that, and that they are trying to think about how we manage to get to the other side and how we manage to break those kind of bubbles that separate us.” They appeal to humor and other ways of telling stories, according to the Colombian journalist, who is currently director and co-founder of the Latin American Center for Journalistic Investigation (CLIP).
New narratives and migration
For Rodríguez-Alarcón, the issue of migration must be naturalized, to have more counter-intuitive approaches to open debates that are usually not explored on that issue.
"You have to talk about neighbors, you have to talk about meals, you have to talk about music, you have to talk about history," she said.
"Because when you speak badly of the migrant, you are excluding him, but when you speak well of him, you also exclude him, because he does not stop being a migrant, of being different."
In the Migrations and New Narratives report that porCausa published in 2019, and for which the investigation took about three years, it worked on various aspects of how to address migration. The project that resulted in the report aimed to rethink what is meant by migration journalism.
“The narrative we want to run away from is, on the one hand, the anti-migration and, on the other, the welfare-oriented. The first is anchored in fear; the second, in pity,” they say on their website regarding the approach of the report. Its premise is to transform the narrative that exists for coverage on migration, to reconstruct the framework that circumscribes it.
"Life begins with migration, movements exist from the origins of humanity and are processes that cannot be avoided by many walls that are built and controls that want to be imposed," it explains on its website.
Likewise, Rodríguez-Alarcón said, journalists and investigators should start asking themselves other questions, such as "who is making a profit from migration?"
In this regard, in 2017, porCausa conducted a whole investigation on the immigration control industry in Spain. Within it, they included all the lobbies of the different companies that make up this industry, “which is basically the same industry as the security and defense industry,” Rodríguez-Alarcón said.
Among other spaces for debate, the foundation organized for the second time the International Congress of Migration Journalism in October 2019. It convened journalists and media from Latin America, and other parts of the world, to analyze the different ways of approaching stories of migration in journalism.
In addition, it is part of the technical office of the Ibero-American Forum on Migration and Development organized by the Ibero-American General Secretariat (Segib), in whose last edition it first introduced the topic of new narratives to the debate, according to Rodríguez-Alarcón.