Two San Francisco Bay Area newspapers published articles within the last week about illegal immigration and its effects on individuals. One paper is a large metro daily, the other a small independent weekly that can be picked up for free at sidewalk news racks.
Which one had more verifiable facts? Surprisingly, the tiny weekly, which devoted 2,407 words to educate readers about “Life on the Southern Border” for people who live in a strip of Texas that lies between the Rio Grande and the border fence. The large metro daily used 1,923 words to recount the story of one family’s decision to move to Mexico after the father left the United States when he was denied a green card. That article was sparse on verifiable facts while the weekly used actual numbers from the Border Patrol about the amount of drugs smuggled in the U.S. and number of aliens crossing the border.
In journalism school we learned about something called “content analysis,” which is objectively reviewing text for items of interest. In this case, I did a quick content analysis of both articles to see how they compared.
Points of interest:
- The metro paper’s headline is “Dad’s deportation rips Bay Area family apart,” and in paragraph 8, readers are told the father was “forced” to leave the U.S. last August. However, in paragraph 22, the father is described as “climbing into his truck and making the long journey south.” Deportation is an official act by law enforcement. The article reads as if he decided to leave on his own.
- In “Dad’s deportation” the only facts that appear verifiable are in paragraph 8, where the writer tells us that the father, now 46, was brought to the U.S. when he was 6 years old, and married an American citizen when he was 23. In all that time in the U.S., he apparently never bothered to try to obtain legal status, and the reporter either didn’t ask why or didn’t want to tell the readers. The writer cites, without verifying, that the father had two drug-possession convictions. No government officials or official records are cited anywhere in the story. Readers have no way of knowing whether the drug convictions are true, or whether he was denied a green card because of them. The stated facts come only from the family.
- The weekly’s article tells readers about those living along the Texas border and the effects on their lives of illegal immigration and drug trafficking from Mexico. However, the article also presents several facts, including the amount of drugs seized during a week on the border (paragraph 12) and the number of illegal aliens picked up by the border patrol in 2014 (paragraph 22).
- Both articles open with similar scene-setting descriptions and both rely heavily on quotes to tell the story. “Dad’s deportation” runs 50 paragraphs, 18 of which are quotes. “Life on the Southern Border” has 72 paragraphs, 35 of which are quotes.
- “Life on the Southern Border” includes a large graphic that provides information not included in the article itself, such as the fees paid to smugglers to sneak aliens into the U.S. and 10 years of data on the number of aliens apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley sector of Texas.
What’s interesting is that the resources of the metro daily probably far exceed the weekly paper and yet the weekly did a much more complete story. The weekly also used quotes to illustrate both the negative effects of illegal immigration and the compassion those affected have for the aliens and their struggles. The daily paper took the easy way: tug at readers’ heartstrings by interviewing the wife about how tough it is to be separated from her husband and to have to leave the U.S. There are more problems with the metro’s story, such as a mention of President Donald Trump, trying to tie him to the father’s exit from the U.S., which actually happened in August 2016, during the Obama administration.