Depth-reporting panel discusses challenges covering borders in Puerto Rico and Canada

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The depth-reporting class aims to teach students to work in teams in foreign countries, but the students said they learned more about themselves as reporters. The panel discussed issues finding transportation, translation and sources. (Marianna Hauglie/DD)

This week’s Must See Mondays event at the Walter Cronkite School featured a panel of depth-reporting students presenting their experiences reporting in Canada and Puerto Rico this past semester.

Molly Smith, AJ Vicens, Caitlin Cruz, David Robles, Rachel Leingang and Alex Lancial spoke to the audience about their experiences with the depth-reporting class, in which they were able to take two different trips to Canada and Puerto Rico to report on border issues.

Carnegie Professor of Journalism and Southwest Borderlands Initiative Professor Rick Rodriguez introduced the students and spoke on behalf of the program’s sponsor, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by the international photojournalist, author and philanthropist.

“We ultimately try to teach these students how to work in a team and how to report in a foreign country,” Rodriguez said. “We focus mainly on border issues that are happening all over the world, not just in Arizona.”

Vicens, a graduate student, said he reported on corruption within the Puerto Rican police force. He spoke about learning how to find sources in a foreign country and the types of people he met while reporting on such an intense issue.

“You don’t get the luxury to travel like this or work with amazing editors like you do in the program,” Vicens said.

Senior Molly Smith was selected to go on both the Canada and Puerto Rico trips. She reported on the differences between the Canadian and Mexican borders. She was also one of two photojournalists on the Puerto Rico trip, lending her skills to almost every story.

“What I learned most while on this trip was how to keep up with so many different stories and keep them straight in my mind,” Smith said.

Junior Caitlin Cruz told a story of how she “snuck” into Canada while reporting on the trip, and how it actually enhanced her in-depth story on the types of security that appear at the Canadian and Mexican borders.

Most of the students’ stories related to issues of translation, transportation and finding sources.

All of them agreed that the class taught them more about themselves as reporters than just about reporting itself.

“For me, journalism is about the people behind the stories,” Smith said. “That’s why I love this field.”

Jason Manning, director of student media at the Cronkite School, assisted Rodriguez with each of these trips and spoke highly of the depth-reporting program the school provides.

“To watch these students take on reporting on another country and deal with simple issues of whether or not their cellphone will work, how will they get across the border and other issues is truly amazing,” Manning said. “If you are looking for a practical boot camp on how to report on another country, then take this class.”

Journalism freshman Angela Schuster said she enjoyed the presentation and was interested in the depth-reporting course.

“At some point I would like to do the borderlands initiative,” Schuster said. “I think it was good to hear the experiences they have had with it and (the) ways to get into the program.”

Journalism senior Julie Vitkovskaya said she came to the presentation because she is interested in reporting abroad, and thought it was a great opportunity to get a student’s perspective on these issues.

“The sheer amount of willpower that these journalism students had to report on these deep topics is useful,” Vitkovskaya said.

Rodriguez said students who are interested in taking the depth reporting class should contact him at

Correction: April 23, 2013

A previous version of this article said Caitlin Cruz was a senior.

Contact the reporter at