"Crimes involving Venezuelans in Peru," "Illegal Venezuelans provoke anger and protests in Chile," "Disturbing increase in HIV due to the arrival of Venezuelans." These are some of the stigmatizing headlines that news media around Latin America have published since the arrival of migrants from Venezuela in recent years.
"Since the beginning of 2017, when that strong and forced migration cycle to Latin American countries started, the media went wild. It was horrible to see the front pages, the newscasts, the news outlets, their terrible coverage — criminalization of migrants, sexualization of migrant women, politicians turning Venezuelans into scapegoats, etc," Jefferson Díaz, a Venezuelan journalist in Ecuador, told LatAm Journalism Review (LJR).
Díaz is among those Venezuelan journalists who decided to make a life beyond borders and then began covering and specializing in migration journalism. By 2019, the Press and Society Institute of Venezuela (Instituto Prensa y Sociedad de Venezuela or IPYS) claimed that around 18% of Venezuelan journalists registered in its media map were no longer practicing in Venezuela and had left for more than 24 countries.
According to Díaz, coverage of Venezuelan migration has improved, but there is still some way to go. "The mainstream media has already gotten in line and you're not going to find those headlines blaming Venezuelan migrants for all misery," Díaz said.
"But, there is always a newspaper that wants to be 'the people's newspaper' and that's where you see horrible coverage of the migration of Venezuelans but also Cubans, Haitians, etc. It is a stigmatization of migration that comes from newsrooms. We journalists should try to understand the different points of view of a news story," he said.
Pierina Sora, a Venezuelan journalist living in Peru, agrees with Díaz. She began her career in sports journalism. However, she soon felt that was not her path and in 2016 she began covering migration from the inside, that is, telling the stories of those who were leaving Venezuela.
In 2018 she left for Peru and the discrimination she felt as a migrant made her think about writing in depth about it. "When I arrived in Peru, the local press held many stereotypes, it was tabloid-like, and their migratory coverage approach was terrible. In addition, I experienced an uncomfortable situation in my first job because I was from Venezuela. I thought, at that moment, that if this was happening to me, it was also happening to other migrants. From there, I reaffirmed I had to be involved in migration journalism, so I’ve been receiving training and specializing in it," Sora said.
Both journalists recommend, in order to avoid stigmatizing migrants in the media, having more empathy within newsrooms, hiring migrant journalists so they can share their point of view, and educating journalism students and other citizens on this issue. Sora, for example, uses her social media to create content to change this negative migration narrative.
Venezuelan journalists who are migrants and, at the same time, cover the migration of their compatriots in their host countries do not start from scratch because they face fewer cultural barriers to connect with their sources.
"One advantage is that there is no language barrier and less of a cultural barrier. We share a country that connects us, Venezuela. That gives us a good starting point," Clavel Rangel, a Venezuelan journalist in the United States, told LJR.
"Another advantage is trust: When you are a migrant, you are always afraid of being swindled, cheated, etc. It was much easier for me to get interviews [on the U.S.-Mexico border] as a Venezuelan journalist than for other colleagues," Rangel added.
There are also disadvantages and challenges, including the temptation to romanticize the facts or further victimize migrants. For Rangel, one of the biggest challenges as a migrant journalist is for her own fears and her own longings for the country she left behind not to get in the way she tells [others’] stories.
"I had always written for Venezuela, or helped others tell stories about Venezuela for a foreign audience from Venezuela. But being here I realized that it is one thing to communicate for the host country and another for the country of 'escape,' so to speak. I’ve found it difficult to find a middle ground, or rather, to find my place within that dynamic, especially as a freelancer," Rangel said.
Migrant journalists have an open country-wound and often suffer just as much as their migrant countrymen from — chauvinism, grief, job and economic instability, etc.
"Recently, there was a peak of chauvinism here in Peru and there was a lot of talk in the media about Venezuelans as the cause for crime. That affects me a lot," Sora said. "Also, while doing interviews during the pandemic, on several occasions, I started crying because I felt privileged, because some migrants were having a really bad time," she added.
There is increasing talk that the journalistic profession should be practiced in a sustainable way, taking care of mental health and emotional well-being, but when one is also a migrant, this care must be redoubled.
"I try hard to put myself in the other person's shoes to understand a story and that carries an emotional cost. And in general, we are way behind — as media companies — on how to process these emotional costs and how to address them," Rangel said.
"I think the important thing is to be able to discern and put feelings in their place. Give them names, go to therapy, etc. Emotional impact is intrinsic to this job, because we are not artificial intelligence."