USA Today Network journalists describe process behind massive ‘The Wall’ project
By the time a debate about building a wall on the United States’ southern border became a national discussion, journalists at The Arizona Republic were already familiar with issues surrounding the border. They knew their readers, as residents of a border state, were too.
“What we really wanted to do is bring the border to people in Indiana, people in Iowa, people in New Hampshire, people in Vermont,” said Arizona Republic immigration reporter Daniel Gonzalez. “This was a chance to bring the border to them.”
Gonzalez, along with Arizona Republic reporter Josh Susong and USA Today reporter Annette Meade, discussed “The Wall: Unknown stories. Unintended consequences,” Monday. The multimedia project, which won a Pulitzer Prize last year, included numerous stories, documentaries, podcasts, digital maps and other pieces focusing on the people, places and issues affected by the proposed wall between the United States and Mexico.
The event, co-hosted by The Media School and the Hamilton Lugar School Living Learning Center, included a screening of the group’s documentary and a panel discussion. Media School professor of practice Elaine Monaghan joined the journalists for the panel discussion.
The documentary followed journalists as they traveled along the country’s southern border. It showed footage from some of the most remote parts of the United States, focusing on the effects, issues and consequences of President Donald Trump’s promise to build a wall.
The journalists on this project were way ahead of the conversation regarding the border wall, said professor of practice Thomas French, who moderated the panel.
“It’s cutting-edge journalism and very exciting work about a subject that’s obviously at the forefront of our country’s conversation,” French said.
Hundreds of journalists in USA Today newsrooms across the country worked on the project, writing stories, recording video and audio, and sifting through data to create maps.
It was the largest companywide project the network has ever taken on, said Meade, the project manager. As soon as they decided what they wanted to do, they began reaching out to their newsrooms across the country to find out how they could help.
“We have a newsroom in every border state,” said Susong, lead content editor. “We knew collectively there’d be people on the ground familiar with it.”
Throughout the reporting process, Gonzalez said he often had to be present during very difficult times, such as when families didn’t know if a loved one who had crossed the border was still alive, or when the family later found out the person had died.
People don’t often talk about what journalists have to go through to bring the story to the reader, he said.
“In the moment, you just have to detach yourself emotionally,” Gonzalez said. “You can’t do your work while you’re there, unless you force yourself to be detached.”
Since the project published in 2017, the documentary has been screened across the country. Susong said viewers have expressed differing opinions about the need for a border wall.
The goal of the project wasn’t to be for the wall or against the wall, he added. It was to learn and understand more about an idea that motivated people across the country.
“It was for you that we did this work in the first place,” Susong said.