One problem: In the transition from local story to national story—from a story that can delve into nuance to a story framed as a topic of national debate—important perspectives often get lost in translation. Reporting the immigration story well, with both evocative detail and a sense of scope, becomes even more difficult given that reporters telling that story must take into account the highly fraught immigration landscape: one in which the thorny issues of race and ethnicity bisect the political plane.
It is telling, then, that some of the most effective stories to come out of the SB 1070 signing have approached the issue from a very local level. Take another Associated Press article, this one from May 3: a report on the suddenly popular movement to boycott Arizona businesses to protest the law. While the knee-jerk reaction among some in the media has been to report on the boycotts as simply an act of political protest on the part of people empowered to engage in one, the AP story (reported from Nogales, Mexico, the border town that shares a boundary with the Arizona city of the same name) digs deeper. It reminds the reader that, at the micro level, these boycotts could actually harm migrant families, and in turn, block the legal nodes of Mexican/American small business. They could lead to migrant workers being laid off, thus cutting a vital source of income to their families back home. In other cases, the boycotts could sever an important tie that thousands of legal migrants rely on for discount shopping near the border. Because the story tackles the issue from an on-the-ground perspective, it actually says more about the national landscape than many other politically minded pieces.
Capturing the essence of a broad and significant topic like immigration is certainly no easy undertaking, especially when so much of the current coverage is written and edited hundreds of miles away from the contentious Arizona border. But the national immigration debate will likely ramp up in the coming months. And when it does, reporters should remember: In telling that story, it’s as important to keep one foot on the ground as it is to see the big picture.