Immigration is always on the press' radar, but rarely front and center. David Ward discovers that crowded rallies and work-related issues will likely lead to full media attention.From the recent page-one stories on the arrests of illegal immigrants working at Wal-Mart to the steady drumbeat from conservative talk radio on the strains the country's relatively porous borders place on US society, immigration is a hot-button issue for the American media, albeit one that rarely gets covered head-on. Instead, coverage of immigration, especially on a national level, tends to ebb and flow depending on breaking news. Video of overcrowded boats being turned around by the Coast Guard in the waters off Florida or the recent immigrant rally in New York City does air, but often the public, foreign, and social policy debates behind the immigration get scant coverage. It takes a rally to get attention One issue impacting immigration coverage is that while many of the top-25 newspapers do assign reporters to the issue, often it's only as a sub-beat. "If you have 100,000 people in Flushing Meadows you can get coverage, but beyond that it's just a part of the social-issues beat," says Tim Sullivan, VP with Dan Klores Communications, who handled PR for the recent Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride that culminated in the New York City rally. "And unfortunately, you have a large contingent of reporters who consider it a small part of that beat, so it's very hard to get a reporter out to look at a local success story or do a best-practices roundup." Chuck Kabat, account supervisor with Boston-based Schwartz Communications, adds, "I don't find interest among the media all that high, and what interest there is tends to be specialized and local. People don't look at immigration as sexy or jazzy." That's not the case in every part of the country, however. In regions such as South Florida, Texas, and Southern California, immigration does get more regular coverage simply because it impacts everything from classroom size to local businesses. Melissa Gracey, VP with Miami-based Thorp & Company, says outlets such as The Miami Herald and its Spanish-language sister paper, El Nuevo Herald, do cover immigration, but often as a part of their foreign news. "The Miami Herald does it by region," Gracey says. "There are reporters who cover all the issues dealing with Haiti or Cuba, and immigration issues would fall under the bailiwick of that reporter. In many ways, it allows for better coverage because the reporters really know Haiti, the economic and cultural issues of Haiti, and why people come here." There are also several vertical industries that immigration impacts, and therefore a lot of trade magazines also end up covering visa-related issues. "You know who are really aware of immigration issues? Tech reporters," says Kabat, who represents law firm, Testa, Hurwitz & Thibeault. "InformationWeek and other tech publications write regularly about the different kinds of tech visas you can get for outsourcing work or what it takes to keep an Indian or Pakistani, for example, employed on your rolls. So the tech writers get it." Brian Moriarty, an account executive who works with Sullivan at Dan Klores Communications, also notes that while most PR pros tend to target only the mainstream press, ethnic publications are a major outlet for immigration-related pitches. "The people in these immigrant communities are the ones this issue is going to affect the most, and they're not necessarily going to be reading The New York Times or Washington Post," he says. "Instead they'll read the Korea Times or Irish Times." A human face on the pitch Sullivan and others all stress that immigration is not really a press-release-driven category. Instead, they recommend building relationships with key social-issues editors and trying to come up with stories that feature real recent immigrants as the human face for the pitch. While the tone of immigration coverage tends to vary according to both the economy and international incidents like the terrorist attacks of September 11, the trend going forward seems that the issue will get more coverage in the coming years. Marla McCutcheon, principal with Orange County, CA-based Echo Media Group, says, "It will continue to be a hot issue because we're in a global economy now, and companies are doing more and more outsourcing. So there are more and more immigration and emigration decisions." ----- Pitching...immigration Put a face on every immigrant-related pitch. It's easy for a reporter to ignore statistics, and real human drama is far more interesting to cover. Target the ethnic press. These papers are read by many of the communities most impacted by immigration, and the level of interest is always high. Don't look just for an immigration reporter. The issue of both legal and illegal immigrants can be handled by reporters ranging in beats from education to labor to business.
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