Saturday, April 4, 2020
April 4, 2020

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From the Newsroom: Forum part of our role in community

By , Columbian Editor
Published:

Part of the reason people choose to become print journalists is that they don’t like speaking in front of cameras and audiences. We would much rather be in the crowd, recording what’s said.

So it was with much trepidation that the newsroom put on our recent “Bridging the Border” forum at the Vancouver Community Library.

We knew it was the logical extension of a special project that Jessica Prokop and Amanda Cowan did late last year. Jessica had been following the plight of Ramon Flores and his family after Ramon’s personal data was given to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents when he stayed at a Motel 6. Like thousands of others, Ramon never gave permission to disclose his information, and ICE didn’t have a lawful warrant to request it.

He ended up being deported from the United States, where he had lived for almost 20 years, and leaving behind his wife and seven children, all of whom are U.S. citizens. The close family was ripped apart, and their self-sufficiency was replaced by public assistance.

Thanks to a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, Jessica and Amanda traveled to the San Diego suburbs and across the border to Tijuana at Thanksgiving to chronicle the family’s story. Even before the story appeared, we knew there would be grounds for follow-up and a broader community discussion.

So the forum was in the works before they finished the reporting. We started by approaching the scheduler for Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who sued Motel 6 and won a large settlement. When Ferguson was available on Feb. 13, we had our date.

After the story appeared in December, the work started in earnest. Jessica and Web Editor Amy Libby were the main players in the newsroom. Jody Campbell, our community partnerships director, was another huge part of the effort, along with Audri Bomar and Rhona Sen Hoss, who help with our annual economic forecast breakfast and First Citizen events.

Working together they came up with the format — a presentation of the project, an address by Ferguson, and a panel discussion to broaden and localize the issues of Latinos in Clark County.

We didn’t really have a budget for the project, but the library agreed to donate its community room, and CVTV agreed to record the presentation and air it on its website and cable television. A local progressive talk radio station, X-Ray FM, also asked permission to record the forum.

There were a lot of details to tackle. Ben Brown from our IT department agreed to be the audio/video maestro. I said I would be the moderator. Audri and Jessica worked with the speakers and developed the detailed plan.

At the last minute, we learned Ramon’s wife, Enedis, and one of their sons would be coming, so we quickly revised the program to include an update from the family.

But would anyone show up? The library’s community room is big, with seating for more than 100 people. We hoped for at least a couple of dozen. Feeling optimistic, I predicted a crowd of 60 people.

I was wrong! Every seat was taken and people lined the walls. When the room reached capacity, several dozen more people stood in the hall.

As you could have expected from our pulled-together crew, it wasn’t perfect. I’m not the smoothest moderator you could get, and we had some audio troubles at times. But at the end, we felt like we had been successful at promoting thoughtful discussion around an important issue.

In fact, we would like to do another event like this again this year. We’re already trying to think of a subject.

Newspapers will always have reporting the day’s events as their top priority. But events like this one point out we can also play a role fostering civic discussions and connecting communities.

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