November 30, 2018 / 8:30 PM / 9 months ago

When professional collides with personal along the caravan route

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Delphine Schrank, Reuters chief correspondent for Mexico and Central America, gave two middle-aged Honduran men, both migrants, some sliced cucumber from a roadside food stand in Guatemala after learning that they could not afford any at a cost of 5 quetzal, roughly 65 cents.

“I don’t think that’s crossing a journalistic line,” she says. “I think it’s being human.”

Since April, Reuters journalists have crossed borders, clambered onto truck beds and walked hundreds of miles with Central American migrants, many of whom are seeking asylum in the United States to escape gang violence at home.

At Reuters, many of the 13 photographers, 10 video reporters and four text reporters who have covered the painful journey of this year’s caravans say they have wrestled with the question of how much personal distance to keep from their subjects and sources. This dilemma often arises when journalists cover humanitarian crises and bear witness to intense suffering.

Maria Meza (C), a 40-year-old migrant woman from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America trying to reach the United States, runs away from tear gas with her five-year-old twin daughters Saira Mejia Meza (L) and Cheili Mejia Meza (R) in front of the border wall between the U.S and Mexico, in Tijuana, Mexico November 25, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

In our newsroom, the answer comes down to a personal and professional judgment, while also abiding by the Trust Principles of Thomson Reuters (click:, which stress independence and freedom from bias. Reuters is committed to reporting fairly and honestly, to doggedly gathering hard to-get-information, and to remaining impartial.

Schrank, who has traveled with migrants through Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico, says forging close relationships with interviewees is key to getting to the heart of the story.

“People are on the road for emotive reasons as much as factual ones,” Schrank says. “This is not a cold story, and you can’t be cold as a journalist either.”

Luis Acosta holds 5-year-old Angel Jesus, both from Honduras, as a caravan of migrants from Central America en route to the United States crossed through the Suchiate River into Mexico from Guatemala in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico October 29, 2018. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

Across the U.S. border, Reuters photographer Adrees Latif embedded with three separate U.S. Customs and Border Protection units, mostly in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.

The officers carry two or three gallons of water with them per shift. Latif has taken photographs of them delivering water to migrants to show another aspect of the story.

“A lot of the migrants who cross the border are starving, or lost or walking in circles for days,” Latif says. “Some Border Patrol save their lives.”

Members of the Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC) give water to an apprehended man who illegally crossed into the U.S. border from Mexico in Los Ebanos, Texas, U.S., on August 16, 2018. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

Reuters photographer Hannah McKay felt a sense of guilt after frequently seeing mothers with two children walking along the road from Oaxaca to Mexico City. But she says she tried to keep those feelings in check. 

“You’d think, ‘Well, there are three empty seats in the back of the car.’ You know you could make a huge difference in their day” by giving them a ride, she says. Two cars drove alongside Reuters photographers along the caravan route.

Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., walk on a bridge during a new leg of their travel in Guatemala City, Guatemala October 18, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

But journalists must weigh other considerations. They are unable to guarantee the health and safety of civilians in dangerous environments, and offering assistance to some individuals but not others could raise questions about the impartiality that Reuters journalists are pledged to uphold.

McKay says she believes the act of photographing the migrants by itself has the potential to help them, as it brings international attention to their difficult journey.

Editing by Lauren Young and Bill Rigby

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