Reporting and Covid-19: Tips for Journalists

Coronavirus and Social Justice Reporting: Dispatch from Texas

May 7, 2020

Guest: Dianne Solis, Senior Immigration Reporter, The Dallas Morning News

How do journalists build trust with sources being held in detention? What kinds of stories should reporters be looking for two months into the crisis, and beyond?

Finding stories at the intersection of vulnerability and injustice

There are huge populations that are generally overlooked when it comes to COVID-19’s fast-moving and constant media coverage. Solis describes two examples from her recent reporting: families who are not receiving stimulus aid because of mixed immigration status, and immigration jails where new detainees arrive who have tested positive for COVID-19.

Telling less visible reported Covid-19 stories

Solis’s editor directed her toward a vast migrant camp on the Texas Mexico border to look at whether the virus had become a problem there (two states were already releasing numbers about cases of “imported” Covid-19). Solis called on sources from previous trips to the border, which meant she was able to more easily report remotely.

Maintaining and building relationships with sources

Establishing connections with sources and circling back with them regularly is critical. Solis relies on colleagues at the Dallas Morning News as well as new sources she has met through her current COVID-19 reporting.

Finding people without access to Federal help

Solis received an email from a U.S. citizen whose husband only has a green card; she and other families with mixed immigration status are not receiving aid via the CARES Act. With the help of this contact, Solis was able to identify more people who were unable to access federal aid. She says that as many as five million people – including four million children who are U.S. citizens with at least one parent who is an unauthorized immigrant – are not eligible for assistance through the CARES Act.

How to cover this story in your state or region

Start in the Facebook group Mixed Families Status United. More than 13,000 people now follow the page, which was founded on April 20, 2020, and Solis says it’s an excellent place for reporters to find sources.

Undocumented immigrants want to tell their stories

Solis hears from people every day who need help, including veterans, and people who are frozen in the process of applying for a green card. She says current Federal legislation has been proposed, namely The Leave No Tax Payer Behind Bill, and lawsuits have been filed on behalf of immigrants who haven’t had access to help.

Solis suggests that reporters go to federal district courts and look for writ of habeas suits and/or temporary restraining orders to have immigrant detainees released. She recommends downloading Getting Out, which is mandatory for detainees in some detention centers. Reporters can use the app to contact detainees if they have their surname and alien number. She also suggests contacting immigration attorneys.

What stories are on the horizon?

Solis says toxic stress in children living under the shadow of potential deportation will be a significant story to follow Before the pandemic, Solis reported on a family with a child whose hair was turning grey. She says these children will now have additional acute fears resulting from the pandemic.

Solis says reporters will face steep challenges while covering the pandemic, especially since it will be more difficult to show up in person to report. But she is convinced reporting must continue. Solis suggests texting more often, using video calls, and asking children and parents to record videos.

Seek out inspiring people taking action

When Solis was looking for a fresh approach to covering undocumented immigrants, she found a compelling story about a man running a parish. Solis says reporters will undoubtedly be able to find more of these stories as the pandemic continues, calling it essential for journalists to tell stories about people who find agency and take action, even in the midst of crisis.