Hannah Rosenberg/Sun Photography Editor

Molly O'Toole '09 moderated the panel of immigration journalists in their discussion of immigration journalism's role in United States immigration policy.

December 5, 2021

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalists Discuss Reporting on Immigration

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On Wednesday, three Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists, Sonia Nazario, Nadja Drost and Molly O’Toole ’09, participated in a discussion about the unparalleled migration through the Americas, immigration policy and the role of journalism in relation to these topics. 

The panel was part of the University’s College of Arts and Sciences’ Distinguished Visiting Journalist Program, which invites journalists to the University to engage with faculty, researchers and students through guest lectures, teaching courses and participating in panels. 

Prof. Ray Jayawardhana, astronomy, Dean of Arts and Sciences, introduced the three speakers and acknowledged the contributions that made the panel possible, including donations from Jan Rock Zubrow ’77 and Barry Zubrow. 

Introductions began with O’Toole, the moderator of the panel and this semester’s Distinguished Visiting Journalist Fellow. She was a member of the group that was awarded the first Pulitzer Prize for audio journalism, which she received in 2020, for her work on This American Life. She currently covers immigration and security for the Los Angeles Times, but has reported for many publications from across the world throughout her career. 

O’Toole introduced Nadja Drost, who has worked in print journalism, radio, television and documentary film. She won a Pulitzer Prize this year for her coverage of the difficult migrant journey through the treacherous Darien Gap — a mountainous jungle along the Colombia-Panama border —  to reach the United States.

Sonia Nazario has reported on hunger, drug addiction and child migration and is a current contributing opinion writer at The New York Times. She is best known for her story of a Honduran boy’s search for his mother in the United States entitled “Enrique’s Journey,” which won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing in 2003 and was later developed into a book.

The panel began with O’Toole posing the question of how and why Drost and Nazario became journalists with an interest in migration. “I have migration in my blood,” said Nazario, whose immediate family, who is of Syrian and Polish descent, immigrated from Argentina to the U.S. for greater academic freedom. Similarly, Drost cited her upbringing as the daughter of immigrants and a first-generation Canadian, but she described her slightly different path to journalism, which she initially saw as “too enjoyable for a job.” 

Mentioning working with immigration as a journalist, Nazario also described finding her place in working on immigration and whether she views herself as an activist.

“In journalism, you are not supposed to bring your opinions to the table when you’re reporting stories. You don’t want people to perceive you as biased,” Nazario said. “There are many reasons we abide by these rules.”

Drost feels that aspects of journalism, even if a reporter is abiding by journalistic standards, can achieve similar goals as activism.

“I think that even if it is the case that you are trying to be objective, fair and rigorous in journalism, it is a form of activism in the sense that you are exposing abuses and injustices, you are holding people and the system accountable for them,” Drost said.

At the conclusion of the formal discussion, Nazario touched on three ways she believes the U.S. can tackle the issues surrounding immigration — investing in nation-building, having compassion and fairness for the people arriving at the border and prioritizing asylum seekers. 

The talk was followed by a Q&A session with members of the audience. The first question asks the journalists what is the process in their research and writing to present someone else’s stories accurately and respectfully. Drost explained that it’s not necessary to know every detail to present a comprehensive story.

“I think a lot of that has to do with relationship building with the person. … First of all, not pressure them to tell more stories than they want to, and I think it’s particularly true when people have gone through dramatic events,” she said.

As the panel wrapped up, O’Toole was asked about the differences between Trump’s and Biden’s administrative attitudes towards immigration. She said the primary differences are rhetorical differences. While Biden has deviated from Trump’s language dehumanizing immigrants in his public addresses, he has not changed many of the policies Trump put in place.