Measuring the Impact of Journalism: Which Result Really Matters?

I wrote about Pedro Rivera, who was set to be deported from the United States to Mexico. Twitter shares don't really mean anything to him, but the ultimate outcome after the story was the one that mattered.

As a student in the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism's new Social Journalism program, I spend a lot of time reading and discussing the role journalism should take and how journalists should measure the impact of their work. But I had yet to see this in action with my own work.

Previously, I measured the success of my work by reach: how many shares did it get? Which important people tweeted it? How much traffic did it drive?

But for one of my first grad school stories, I discovered that there was a much better possible outcome that has nothing to do with metrics.

Last month, I managed to get my first grad school story picked up by Quartz.

In the story, I spoke to lawyers across the country about immigration enforcement authorities targeting non-criminal immigrants. I interviewed Pedro Rivera, a grandfather at risk of deportation, and his stepson. Rivera, 48, hails from Mexico and lives in a rural town in Missouri.

He has six children, three stepchildren, and two grandkids. His wife and four of his youngest children and grandchildren depend on his income from working at a cotton gin. He should qualify for executive action, but the programs are currently on hold. The town's mayor and former police chief were among those who vouched for Rivera in support of stopping his deportation.

When the story was published, I was first concerned about its digital impact.

The article received several hundred shares and tweets and likes. It wasn't a huge splash, but it was picked up by some large immigrant advocacy groups on social media and also popped up on Crowdtangle.

But several weeks later, there was a much more tangible outcome. Wesley Schooler, Rivera's lawyer, emailed me on April 13 to tell me the following.

Last week, Schooler emailed a new address set up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement designed to take prosecutorial discretion inquiries. This basically means immigrants who aren't deportation priorities who should be given "discretion" to stay in the U.S. In the email to ICE, Schooler discussed Rivera's case, and included links to my Quartz story and blog post.

On April 13, he received a call from immigration authorities in St. Louis. They told him they were initially going to deny Rivera’s latest stay request because of legal semantics about his decades-old charge for crossing the border in a car with undocumented immigrants.

But authorities agreed that Rivera wasn't a priority for deportation.

So they agreed to let him stay and defer his deportation as long as he "stays out of trouble." Before, he had check in with immigration on a monthly basis, and now, he only has to go back a year from now. Once executive action goes into effect, Schooler plans to apply for Rivera to get longer-term relief.

"I’d like to think they took the press coverage into consideration in their decision," Schooler told me in an email.

Not every story has a positive outcome, and I'm not sure that my coverage of Rivera's case made the difference. But this is exactly the reason I decided to pursue journalism, and social journalism in particular. Freelancing won't pay my bills, but this kind of outcome makes the work worth it.

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