Cronkite News Borderlands Initiative

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Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and Arizona PBS launched a Cronkite News Borderlands Initiative to help Cronkite News students expand coverage of immigration and border issues leading up to the 2016 elections. The Cronkite School will be the first journalism program to partner with Beacon, a crowdfunding platform which has helped other news organizations and journalists fund reporting projects. Angela Kocherga, ASU Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication Southwest Borderlands Initiative professor as well as co-director of the Cronkite News Borderlands Bureau and Erica Lang, Cronkite News Borderlands reporter talk about the initiative.

Jose Cardenas: Good evening. I'm Jose Cardenas. Find out about an initiative between ASU's Cronkite School of Journalism and Arizona PBS to expand coverage of border and immigration issues. And we'll talk to the author of a new book that tells the love story of a wife and husband and their personal experiences with the U.S. immigration system. All this coming up next on "Horizonte."

Video: "Horizonte" is made possible by contributions by the Friends of Arizona PBS, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Jose Cardenas: This week, ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and Arizona PBS launched a Cronkite News Borderlands Initiative to help Cronkite News students expand coverage of immigration and border issues during this election year. Joining me now to talk about the initiative is Angela Kocherga, Southwest Borderlands Initiative professor of practice for the ASU Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications. Angela is also the co-editor of the Borderlands Bureau of Cronkite News at Arizona PBS. Also here is Erica Lang, a Cronkite News Borderlands reporter. Thank you both for joining us on "Horizonte." And I should make clear that the initiative that was launched actually was a crowd funding initiative that we'll talk about in a moment but this all started what last semester?

Angela Kocherga: Last semester, I came on board to launch a bigger Borderlands Bureau in our Cronkite Newsroom, which means students would cover stories throughout Arizona on both sides of the border. We want to bring these stories to our viewers and more of these stories, which is part of the crowd funding campaign.

Jose Cardenas: As part of that, they brought you and another journalist, very experienced journalist. Give us a little bit about your background.

Angela Kocherga: We both are long-time journalists, still journalists, still doing work and thought it was time to share our expertise with students. We have wonderful young journalists. I've covered out of Mexico City, opened a news bureau for a group of television stations and also worked on the border based in Texas, El Paso and also California and New Mexico. So lots of experience, lots of great stories and plenty more to do.

Jose Cardenas: And your colleague's name?

Angela Kocherga: Alfredo Corchado, he does digital journalism for the Mexico City bureau and also, the author of a book, midnight in Mexico. We both have roots in Mexico, experience on both sides of the border and covered a wide variety of topics and issues and unfortunately, a lot of that coverage in recent years has been of the very violent drug war.

Jose Cardenas: We want to talk about that and a whole bunch of other things related to this initiative but we've got a video that we want to share with our audience.

Video: There is absolutely zero level of urgency.

Video: The families don't know where to begin; they don't have the resources to begin looking.

Video: First thing that has to happen is there has to be a legitimate work program for people to come legally.

Video: They told me whatever happens, he still always loves me! I told him I love you, too.

Video: It just really impacted me to get to hear what they had to say first-hand instead of just getting the opinions of people online or of officials or press releases; you get to go to where something happened and talk to the everyday people who are directly impacted.

Video: Part of our job is taking these complex border issues and yet bringing them in, honing them in and understanding that a lot of these issues affect all of us.

Video: [Speaking Spanish] I think that being bilingual has helped me better communicate with the families, that's their first language, they have more trust. It's easier to get the interview and allows me to know them on a deeper level.

Video: It was interesting to see both sides for me, being able to see in that both areas that I lived and being able to look at it from a journalist's point of view.

Jose Cardenas: So Erica that video gave us a sense of some of the things you guys have been doing and you started this months ago. Tell us about why you got involved and what your experiences are to date.

Erica Lang: Sure, being a senior, this is my final year here, so being a part of the Border Initiative was something very exciting to engage in and I think that, you know, our stories and our content is something to be proud of. One of the stories that really sticks out was our trip to Nogales where I specifically did a story on medical tourism and individuals from Arizona and especially middle-class Americans crossing for things like dental and prescription drugs and so it was very interesting to really understand the issue by interviewing people on the border.

Jose Cardenas: And I think the name itself implies that it's not just immigration; it's border. That's the subject. And your piece on people going across the border to get the low-cost medical care emphasizes. What other kinds of things have you focused on?

Erica Lang: I think the idea of the Borderlands is an important topic that needs to be seen on both a global and local level. So you know, our stories ranged from important issues, such as immigration but also, you know, local Latina artists and sort of the important factors that you know Latinos and Hispanics play in places all over the world.

Jose Cardenas: We have a picture of you and some of your colleagues that we want to put on the screen. And I think one of the points it drives home as does the video is that you're there. I mean, it's not -- we were talking off screen, offset a while ago and you talked about phoning it in but Erica, you and your colleagues, you're at the border. What has that been like? Any eye opening experience?

Erica Lang: I think one of the things that is said is to get out of the newsroom and we really took that to the next step and not just getting out of the newsroom but really getting out of our comfort zone and going to the border and being there I think gives you sort of a different perspective as a journalist and as a student, that these issues, you know, really do play a part and should be a part of our reporting.

Jose Cardenas: Angela, you've been in this business for a long time.

Angela Kocherga: Yes.

Jose Cardenas: You don't look it but I know you're very experienced. How unusual is this kind of experience for journalism students?

Angela Kocherga: This is a rare experience and that's why I'm here. This is a program unlike any other in the country where we talk about the hospital teaching method where the students go out into the field and they learn by doing, they learn by example and there is no substitution. I mean, I did it day and in day out as part of my career, go to hear the people's voices, to hear what issues are important to them, to see the stories unfold before you. You can't find everybody on Twitter, social media, you have to go out and talk to the people on the borders, too often our stories are told from people who have nothing to do with the border. We hear a lot of rhetoric from politicians, but the real story of the people involved, the people impacted by the policies don't get told, we don't hear their voices and that's the goal for these young talented storytellers. I'm very proud of Erica and all our students from last semester. We have a whole new crop this semester already doing wonderful work. They happened to be young women last semester but we have young men this semester. These are the journalists of the future who are doing great work now and bringing us the stories we really need to hear for our viewers and readers.

Jose Cardenas: You talk about your viewers and readers. We're not just talking about Arizona. How are these stories being used?

Angela Kocherga: These stories are being spread all over the state and obviously, the newscasts with Arizona PBS and some of the videos, there is a real hunger and a lot of people want to know more, which is why this crowd funding is a new way of engaging readers, viewers and people who care about these issues and letting them get involved and helping us bring these students, send these students to the border, to help them travel there and tell these stories. So it's a -- it's a prestigious journalism organization all over the country doing this kind of outreach and crowd funding and we get to hear from our readers and viewers what kind of stories they want and what they're telling us through our PIN Bureau is that they really do want more border coverage. Immigration is a very important issue but there are so many more issues. There's trade, family ties, there's economic ties, there's health issues, there's environmental issues. We want to tell all these stories.

Jose Cardenas: And we should emphasis that that's the most recent, the crowd funding campaign, we had some information on the screen earlier. How do people, though, who want to contribute, where can they get more information?

Angela Kocherga: They can -- we'll put a link up, and it's the Beacon Crowd Funding, they funded many programs. Our goal is $20,000 and we have to make $10,000 and it will be matched. So you can double your money by contributing and helping young journalists tell the stories that are important, especially this election year. We know there's so much hot button rhetoric surrounding immigration and the border and we need to really tell the stories from the perspective of the border, a border state, border states, people on both sides and we're doing that and we need to do more of that.

Jose Cardenas: Erica, Angela was just talking about the fact that this is a presidential election, immigration is the dominant topic at least on the Republican side. Does that give you a different perspective about the stories you're doing? Does it add to the significance in your view of what they're doing?

Erica Lang: You know, it does. It does. But at the same time, these stories are going to be important, whether it is an election year or it's not. And as student journalists, we are learning that this sort of reporting needs to be continued, especially during election years and even when there's not as much attention, you know, as journalists, it is our role to tell these stories.

Jose Cardenas: And we've talked about the fact that it's not just focused on immigration. You're telling people's stories but what kind of impact do you think that has on this whole immigration debate?

Erica Lang: You know, I think it brings light to the diversity that does exist, and it's important to hear those voices and to speak to people, you know, as Angela said that normally might not make it into the media. So speaking and hearing these perspectives is an important part of that coverage that we're striving for.

Jose Cardenas: Do you think it changes anybody's perceptions of what the border is like and what the people there do?

Erica Lang: I think that's a part of it. I think that our role is to report on the stories and to allow people to see some of these issues from that perspective so it's definitely, you know, the understanding and the hope that, you know, knowledge brings light to the issues.

Jose Cardenas: Angela, are there any limitations on the kinds of stories that the students will be working on?

Angela Kocherga: Really, obviously, the most important thing is safety and welfare of the students and even reporters out in the field, we want to make sure we're telling the stories but we're doing it in a way that's safe, safeguards the reporter. But beyond that really, limitless possibilities and we're talking about no other country affects day in and day out places like Arizona than Mexico, we have family ties, economic ties, cultural ties, food, environmental issues, water, I mean there really is so much to cover and so many topics and obviously, it's going to be tight around the election and what the people on the border and in a border state want us to talk about. The kinds of stories that are also forgotten in the screaming match that has now become what we call debates.

Jose Cardenas: So what about the drug wars, though along the border? That's obviously presenting some security issues. Is that going to be a subject?

Angela Kocherga: You know, we can't deny I mean in Mexico, you know, more than 150,000 missing or dead so those stories will continue to be told. We've been able to tell them, you know, on the border but also here in Arizona. I mean, there are protests about the missing students in Guerrero and families that have ties and many who have suffered as they've had to deal with crime and violence on the border. But we also have to be honest. There are many parts of Mexico that are perfectly safe and people go to and have ties, tourism ties, we just had a new travel warning for Mexico, big chunks of Sonora but there are plenty of other areas that are not on that travel warning, we're trying to show that tourism is alive and people are still going back and forth, and it's important to maintain those ties. But the drug wars are not something we can ignore or forget about.

Jose Cardenas: Erica, you mentioned at the beginning that you're a senior.

Erica Lang: That's right.

Jose Cardenas: You're almost done. What are you going to be doing next?

Erica Lang: My goal is actually to spend a longer duration in Mexico and become fully bilingual. Being a part of the Latino specialization at the Cronkite School has really opened my mind and shown me that these stories are important. And I want to be sure that I have the skill set I need moving forward so I'm planning on actually spending time there, immersing myself and becoming fully bilingual so I can continue reporting on these important issues.

Jose Cardenas: We wish you the best. Thank you for joining us on "Horizonte" tonight. Angela it's good to meet you, look forward to having you on in future shows to talk about your experiences on the border.

Angela Kocherga: Thank you very much.

Jose Cardenas: Thank you both very much.

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Angela Kocherga: ASU Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication Southwest Borderlands Initiative Professor

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