Day 1 Lightning Talks: How the collaboration ‘After the Buses’ helped reach migrants thrown into the middle of a political stunt
3:27PM Jun 20, 2023
All right, so next up, we've got two more lightning talks Nissa Rhee and Madison Savedra come on up. We are going to hear from them about "After the Buses," a collaboration in Chicago.
Thank you, Stefanie. I'm Nissa Rhee, the executive director of Borderless Magazine, multilingual nonprofit news outlet in Chicago that covers immigrants and immigration, and my name is Madison Saavedra. I'm a reporter with block club Chicago. We're a nonprofit news outlet that covers Chicago's many neighborhoods. So last year, borderless magazine and block club Chicago spent over three months interviewing migrants in Spanish, who had been sent to Chicago as part of Texas Governor Greg Abbott's political stunt. So the result of this work is our bilingual series after the buses. So before our project was published in December, all Chicagoans likely knew about this crisis is that in August, people started arriving in Chicago on buses. We did this project together because we wanted people to know what happened after that. Our goal was to humanize what has been a very dehumanizing situation, where people are more often talked about on mass, rather than as individual humans who have made life threatening journeys to get here. And we wanted to share how this unique collaboration worked and what we do differently if we did it again.
So in total, across our two organizations, 17 people worked on this project. So we wrote nine articles featuring about a dozen people who had arrived to Chicago, we had six reporters, including myself, two of which were also photo journalists. And then an additional two photographers. We had a photo editor, two editors from borderless magazine.
And, gosh, three editors from Block Club Chicago, and then three engagement, people who helped us out with newsletters and social media, and our post publication, engagement.
and do something together. It was actually it was my editor who had the idea, you know, we had a zoom call with both our teams and, you know, that was way back in early September. And, you know, it grew from there. So portal is unblock club had worked together before but never on something this big. So we occasionally republished each other's stories, and borderless had run ins story translation project. So if you were at CJS last year, you know, I talked about that, which block club used to translate its stories into Spanish. But when Stephanie Lulay, the editor at block club suggested this partnership, we were really excited. So our news outlets are very different. But we knew our combined superpowers can make us a great team. borderless has a niche in the Chicago news market, we have a lot of experience reporting on and with immigrants, we understand how to interview people in vulnerable situations. We have check ins built in throughout our story workflow to keep our sources and reporters safe. We also had an existing network of sources, we could tap in a pool of reporters and photo journalists who spoke Spanish we could work with. And finally we publish everything in English and Spanish already. And we have a system in place for putting out high quality Spanish stories quickly.
So I think it's safe to say that if you know my outlet block club Chicago had tried to do a story like this alone, it would have taken us double the amount of time and this was already a project that took us over three months. So it would have taken even longer or it never would have happened. Like borderless black club also has a few Spanish speaking reporters who really made it possible to report on a story like this people, you know, took time away from our daily news coverage, which is, you know, a daily turnaround like we had to kind of put that on pause to push this across the finish line over, you know, several weeks in several months.
I'm, we also have a bigger staff, we have multiple editors who were able to help shepherd this project along. And I also think one of our strengths is having dedicated engagement people. So we have a newsletter manager who really helped to create amazing newsletters that came out in the days and weeks following this project being published, as well as the social media editor who helped us make great graphics that, you know, got people reading and talking about our story, you know, across all social media platforms. And then lastly, where you would borderless made a lot of sense, because like Nyssa mentioned, we have pretty distinct audiences.
So we were able to just reach way more people than either of us could have alone and, you know, help introduce readers who weren't familiar with our outlets, you know, to our outlets. So having this partnership really helped keep us accountable. Considering black club, like I mentioned, we're more of a daily news outlet. So having somebody to report to and check in with on a weekly basis, was really crucial to keeping at it over like I keep saying weeks and months, it was my first time working on a project like this over a really long period of time. So it was helpful to have partners.
Knowing each other superpowers made overcoming the challenges of this project easier. And boy, Were there a lot of challenges. So here are four lessons I want to pass on to you from our project. So first, carefully choose the timing of your collaboration. So our biggest challenge was by far that the timing, you know, we had almost no notice that the buses were going to come in August. And when they kept coming in September, we decided to work on this project together. And we were determined to publish by early December to avoid the holiday craziness. And as you may know, the last few months of the year are really challenging and nonprofits. We had to balance this large project with year end fundraising. People taking time off for the holidays, we did the best with the cards we were dealt in did publish in early December. But you know, if I could choose the time, I would choose a less busy time of year. Second, my tip was start work on the publication rule rollout well in advance. So because of our timeline, we had to rush some of the pre publication prep like designing the series logo and websites and some of the post publication engagement. We had hoped other outlets would republish the series besides our own, but because it was the year end, everyone was just too busy to take that on. Third, have a separate budget for the collaboration. I think a lot of people have talked about fundraising today, or have an emergency pool you can tap into we didn't have any funding for this work. We knew that the need for this reporting was now and it was either start now or start never and there wasn't time for us to wait a month or six months to get a grant to fund the reporting we needed to serve our audiences today. So this meant they give this meant that some of the reporting our newsrooms had planned for last year got pushed into this year. And we were all working long, long hours, nights and weekends to get this series across the finish line. I remember being on the phone with Stephanie Lulay right before the night before it went out at like two a doing cut last minute copy editing. So it was really a work of love. Beep last one, be patient and talk it out. So working with a new newsroom means running into issues around workflows, writing styles, and more. But we really took the time to talk things out outlining clearly the types of stories we wanted, including structure and length. We met weekly over video and the reporters and photographers medication only at our borderless co working space. And whenever someone ran into difficulty with like, learning their source was admitted to a hospital for a drug overdose. We problem solved and we came up ideas with ideas for explainers and resources that we could provide to help the migrants before our series published. And these were all very traumatic stories to report on and I was thankful we had each other to lean on and being community with.
So I think it's safe to say that we enjoyed working with each other because we are working on yet another project. It's still on like the super early planning stages. But Nyssa and I are working on a larger, more investigative story looking into the city's response to this crisis. So successful collaboration. And we really got such a great response from our readers and our sources after after the buses Is that we just felt like the reporting had to continue. There's so many more stories to tell. So here's just a some a glimpse of what we heard from people, you know, three different examples of impact. But then I also have some impact quotes from our sources themselves. So these are the folks who we met up with over weeks and months, and like really cultivated good relationships with one said, friend, thank you very much. Excellent. It made me cry. Another holy bleep. I'm so grateful for this. I'm looking at the story. And I'm so thankful for this. And I'm very grateful that the photos are excellent, too. So we really felt like this reporting built great rapport between us reporters and you know, the growing immigrant community in Chicago. So, that's all we have, please feel free to come up to us if you have any questions, and our contact info is up on the side of via Twitter, and also be sure to check out our poster board outside we spent a lot of time on it.