Even though immigration has always been a major source of public debate, many major media outlets generally covered it as an event-driven or politically oriented breaking news story.
That is changing as communities large and small now find themselves grappling with the arrival of legal and illegal immigrants looking for opportunity in the US.
"There are now a good solid core of journalists who have gotten bit by the bug and are now fascinated by the issue," notes Angela Kelley, director of the Immigration Policy Center at the American Immigration Law Foundation. "The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Orange Country Register, Gannett, and McClatchy all have dedicated beat reporters, and in some cases, more than one."
Patrick Butler, VP of programs at the Washington-based International Center for Foreign Journalists (ICFJ), adds that even smaller newspapers in Midwestern states are now finding immigration emerging as a new major issue and, as a result, have sent reporters to ICFJ seminars to get up to speed on the issue.
"This is happening at the same time a lot of news organizations are downsizing," he says. "But that's because editors realize this isn't going to go away and will be a major issue for years to come."
The challenge for the media is that while immigration is a complex, multi-faceted story that requires a lot of nuanced reporting and writing, many newsmakers, even on Capital Hill, tend to frame the immigration debate in strictly black and white, pro- and anti-, terms.
"Often reporters will have heard the talking points from the anti-immigrant side, but, to their credit, they do try to tell the other side of the story as well," Kelley explains, adding that coverage includes legislation as well as human interest stories taking place all across the country.
In addition to the mainstream press, Spanish-language and other non-English language outlets are also paying very close attention to the issue. However, as Elena Shore, editor at the New America Media news service notes, the stories are far more personal in non-English media. "In the ethnic media, this is not just a political issue; it's people's lives. So even local weeklies make sure they have the resources to cover it," she adds.
Outside of getting policy experts placed in stories, or on TV or radio debates, PR's main role in the immigration debate has been reporter education. That function is likely to be in greater demand going forward, as immigration remains a major political - and therefore a major media - topic even after the November elections, Kelley adds.
"I've seen no sign of media fatigue when it comes to immigration," she says. "I subscribe to several news services, and it's breathtaking how many stories get written on this issue every single day."
With so many reporters asked to pick up immigration as part of their metro, business, or education beat coverage, there are growing opportunities for reporter education on this issue.
New statistics and legislation can provide a ready-made news hook, so be sure to have relevant clients poised and ready to provide analysis
Develop a bilingual media outreach strategy to target both the mainstream and growing Spanish-language press with immigration-themed story ideas