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Three questions to help guide constructive reporting on migration

Three questions to help guide constructive reporting on migration
A pre-Covid rally in Germany calls for safer migration routes. Photo: Omer Messinger/AFP
Throughout 2020 and 2021, The Local offered free training in solutions-focused journalism on migration for reporters across Europe.

Around 150 students and journalists at different stages of their careers took part in our training, which was carried out as part of an EU-funded project. 

Solutions journalism is a way of reporting on social problems by evaluating possible solutions.

Our training participants have written about a wide range of responses, including a Belgian school training refugees in programming, an NGO offering migrant mothers and children accommodation and legal counselling to protect them from trafficking networks in Spain, and a German project helping young refugees develop confidence and process their emotions through poetry. You can see a list of all the articles here.

Throughout the training courses, we focused on three key questions that journalists (and readers) can keep in mind when working on migration coverage.

How are other people facing this problem?

This question is at the core of the solutions journalism methodology.

Sources of statistics like Eurostat often directly compare EU countries, making it simple to look for any outliers, for example, countries or regions with a particularly low migrant unemployment rate.

Once you can see that someone has had a better outcome, you can work backwards, finding out if this was the result of a particular response or set of responses.

What’s the value?

We advised participants to be wary of “silver bullets” or any proposed solution that makes big promises.

Solutions stories look at a promising response to a problem, and evaluate the evidence that it’s working, as well as addressing limitations. Here it is crucial to understand who the problem affects, and what the impact is if it can be solved or if it is left unaddressed.

The problems that affect people who migrate to Europe are often complex, and linked to structural issues.

It is also important to think about the long-term impact of responses.

In our discussions with journalists across Europe about the current state of migration reporting, we picked up on a few common themes, one of them being that reports often focus on one specific point in the migration journey. It’s often the crisis point: moments of tragedy during the journey to Europe, or a point long after their arrival when they are presented as a “success story”.

Solutions-focused stories give a longer-term perspective by looking at evidence over time. There will also be a distinction between responses which are short-term, for example improving conditions in refugee camps, to responses that address root causes of problems, such as those that create safe migration routes.

Who are we hearing from (and who aren’t we hearing from)?

This is a question journalists should keep in mind at all stages of the reporting journey to ensure their coverage is representative and nuanced.

Before choosing a topic to report on, take a step back and consider your own network, and that of your newsroom. Who are you in touch with who knows about this topic, and which voices are missing which would add a valuable perspective? How could you reach those people?

When interviewing people, this question should remain at the forefront of your mind. If you are reporting on a programme that is supposed to help migrants, it needs to be a priority to speak to the people who should be being helped, and find out what their experience is. This is the only way to understand the true extent of how well something is working, and any limitations.

And if you are hearing positive feedback from people who were supported by the response, you can also ask who the response didn’t reach. For example, it may be the case that a response to a problem is only effective for a certain group of migrants – people with a university education, for example, or people with English language skills. It doesn’t mean this initiative isn’t worthwhile, but it’s crucial context.

Even after finishing reporting, we encouraged our training participants to think about keeping the conversation going. This might mean staying in touch with your sources to find out how the response progresses, listening to feedback you get that might raise new questions to look into, or reaching out to decision-makers and others who could learn from the response you have looked into.

Read more articles written by participants:

As part of the MAX project for which The Local created this training, several other organisations looked at other ways of changing the narrative around migration across Europe. This included local events to discuss challenges facing migrant communities, research reports into the impact of migration on Europe and on public opinion around migration, and a film festival celebrating new narratives around migration.

At the project’s final event in November, Michael Shotter, Director for Migration, Asylum and Visa of DG Home, said: “The Max Project helps to better understand what migrants bring to society and we need to amplify the positive narratives that came out of it. Each migrant is an individual, not a statistic.”

Thank you to all the journalists and students who joined the course. A final guide to solutions-focused migration reporting is available for journalists, researchers or educators. To receive the guide, please email [email protected]

The curriculum and training sessions were developed by The Local’s journalists, and form part of an EU-wide project, MAX, which is funded by the EU’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF). All articles are editorially independent.


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