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Journalists Lack Skills When Reporting On Immigration

September 28, 2011

There are no journalists specialized in immigration, neither is there any specific training to this end, nor any thought given to how the media influence public opinion in this matter. Lecturer and journalist Alberto Durana has undertaken a thesis in which he is critical both of the Faculties of Journalism and news desks. He argues for the existence of journalists specialized in immigration matters and university courses that takes into account current society. His thesis, defended at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), is entitled, The profile of Basque journalists and their training in the social field of immigration. 

Mr. Durana focused his research in the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country (EAE-CAV), basing his work on different methodologies. On the one hand, he carried out a quantitative analysis of the curriculum of the degrees in Communication in Spain, Europe and the United States of America. He also studied how immigration has been treated by the various paid daily newspapers in the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country. Finally, he gathered the opinions of various journalists, both using questionnaires and, above all, through in-depth interviews. 

No specialization exists

From all this data he concluded that the average Basque journalist is a multi-faceted, general interest and non-specialized professional, which, according to Mr. Durana, has a negative effect when dealing reporting news about immigration. Very few media charge one person in concrete with immigration news. Major newspapers are the exception, but even in these cases, the company does not invest in the training of the journalist, i.e. specialized reporters in immigration are few and far between, and there is nothing but to undertake self-teaching. 

The problem is one of basics, as the training provided is not the most suitable one to direct journalists towards the specialization, especially in matters of immigration, where the data gathered by Mr. Durana is clear: of the 48 universities with Communications degrees in Spain analyzed, only three offer subjects about intercultural communications, and these are optional. In any case, the lack of training in specializations does not only correspond to immigration. With respect to this, the researcher states that the universities and businesses have to take on board their responsibilities: to be aware of new social phenomena and focus them appropriately, incorporating them into the curriculum and into the everyday world of work. 

Not an ideal situation

The image that this research has of the means of communication and of journalists is far from that of the social pedagogy function that is ideally attributed to them. There is no in-depth analysis of the role of the media when dealing with immigration, and neither of their degree of responsibility for the poor or negative image that society has of immigrants. Nor do professional style books give any help in this regard.

As regards journalists, they tend to stress the most negative and alarmist aspects, exaggerating the social presence of immigration. They also have only a superficial knowledge of the professional code of practice in this regard. It is true that all this is aggravated by the precariousness of the labor market within which these professionals move, this being reflected in the lack of time to study the theme in a serious or in-depth manner. 

Prejudices that are dangerous 

In contrast to the situation revealed by the data obtained by Mr. Durana, he argues that journalists should give priority to substantivisation (transmitting information) over adjectivisation (interpreting). They should opt for self-control as a mechanism for “not losing focus”, and the author remarked that social alarm should not be generated: “If a prejudiced person is dangerous, then a journalist with prejudices is more so”. 

He also stressed the need for a specialized journalism, with reference to the role of the university. Mr. Durana stated that social topics, immigration, multiculturalism, diversity, and so on, should be incorporated into a Journalism degree, and in a transversal manner, i.e. as complementary learning in the profession of a journalist. 

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