Standing Aside to Let People Speak for Themselves

A note about Thursday’s DACA story
  • Tina is an editor, reporter and coach with the Colorado News Collaborative. She has been a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post and the Albuquerque Tribune, but spent most of her career as a reporter and columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post. Her reporting on immigration, education and urban poverty has won national recognition. Tina lives in Fort Collins with her husband and two kids. She's a native New Mexican and prefers red over green.

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Dear reader,

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been interviewing Colorado DACA recipients about their states of mind as they waited for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the program’s future. That ruling came this morning and, to the surprise of many, Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the more liberal wing of the bench and against the Trump administration, which sought to scrap DACA.

It was a huge relief for recipients, but it does not end the uncertainty around their futures. After long conversations with five Dreamers, I was planning to weave everything together in a single article, sprinkling in quotes from all of them.

But like many of you, I have been thinking about my role in a society where we do not listen to people directly affected by the policies we sanction. I’ve been thinking about all the protesters demanding equity. I’ve been thinking about how my job as a journalist is not just to bear witness and demand accountability, but also to stand aside when it is time to stand aside and let people speak for themselves in stories that are about them.

By definition of my job as a reporter, I am a gatekeeper. I decide how a story is framed. I decide whose voices to include. Someone once told me, or maybe I read it somewhere, that we must do what the story demands. This story demanded that these Dreamers talk to you directly. I edited my transcription of our conversations, ordering paragraphs to give the individual stories a logical arc because each conversation ran thousands of words. But these are their words. These are their experiences. Each is powerful in its own way. I hope you will take the time to listen to Kenia, Rene, Abner, Armando and Mario.

When I fact-checked with each of them, several choked up. Abner began to cry. He had not, he said, ever been able to tell his full story and he had never heard his own words read back to him. That’s what I mean by standing aside. Nothing, I assure you, nothing I could have written is a substitute for their own words in the wake of today’s ruling.

You may notice that my byline on this piece reads “Colorado News Collaborative” rather than “The Colorado Independent.” Our transition to our new nonprofit home is underway and that byline is not just a byline. It is a pledge to work with newsrooms around the state to do what we can to strengthen journalism. That will look different on a story-by-story basis, but for this one, it was the reason I sought out Dreamers in Fort Collins, Olathe, Grand Junction, Pueblo and Carbondale. Those communities are all served by local newsrooms scrambling to keep their audiences informed, and these young people are their people, too. Any  local newsroom can publish, if it so chooses, this or any of our COLab stories for its readers and then be freed up to do other reporting on other stories of local importance. It’s a win-win and, in a time when newsrooms throughout the state are pressed for resources, one of the ways we at COLab are here to help.

Thank you, as always, for being the readers you are — inquisitive, demanding, voracious, generous. And to steal the motto of our partners at the Colorado Media Project, thank you for understanding that local news is a public good.

Now, time to read those first-persons.


This post was sent as a letter to our email subscribers on June 26, 2020. Join our email list to learn more about COLab and the work we are doing.