“My uncle was an English professor and a poet, and he would sit me down when I was four years old at a typewriter and we would compose stories together. My aunt sent me a copy of something I wrote together with my uncle and didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but just sitting down at a typewriter composing, I think I’ve been doing that ever since.”
Liz Robbins is currently the Director of Journalism Partnerships for Define American, an organization whose goal is to humanize the immigrant experience in the media. One story at a time. Prior to this job, Liz was a longtime reporter for the New York Times, first covering sports and then immigration. She’s also a journalism teacher and professor and wrote a book about the New York City Marathon.
Here are three things I learned from my conversation with her. You can hear the whole interview here.
1)We need to be humanizing the immigrant experience using writing that generate empathetic responses
“We found that people have some viewpoints about immigrants that are not overly positive. Some are stereotypical, that they burden welfare and that they commit crimes. These are stereotypes and they’re not correct. The statistics show us that.
However, if you present a story within a lens of, say, sports, business, arts, culture, people are gonna see their neighbors a little bit differently. People will say, huh, maybe these people are good citizens for our country. So it’s a way of not advocating, but it’s doing smart journalism.
… When I was the NBA columnist, the first year I did a series called Faces from Afar. That was a profile every week of a different international player. I loved this … I opened up this window that I don’t think fans really saw before. So I knew I wanted to do more.”
2)Understanding anonymity in immigration reporting is vital
“I think it’s a challenge for certain reporters to get their editors to understand that, not understanding why it could be dangerous for families.
Let’s say you are interviewing a DACA recipient whose parents are undocumented. They are not here illegally, they are undocumented. You have to understand that if you were to name this person, just to name the person, that could put their parents or relatives in jeopardy.
The other, the other thing that I would really caution, and this is also about language. We’ve heard a lot about the immigrant invasion. The words “surge” and “invasion” and “wave” and “flood” dehumanize immigrants. It makes them like a force to be feared. I could not watch the World Series without these ads that kept coming on. And I’m thinking, when did this get so political?”
“These are people. So increase, influx, words that are more neutral or explaining what it means when people are crossing the border and then asking for asylum.”
3) Always carry a pencil!
“Don’t laugh! You may be somewhere where it is so cold that your pen won’t write. Or it’s raining. So have a pencil somewhere.”
You can listen to the whole interview here: