How Borderless Uses Field Canvassers To Reach Spanish Communities

by Maddy Moore & Lizzy Solorzano


To combat the lack of news coverage of immigrant communities in Chicago, Illinois, Borderless Magazine uses its multilingual reporting to focus on issues and experiences of immigration to combat harmful media coverage of immigrants. In 2022, Borderless launched a pilot initiative to meet its communities where they’re at by using Spanish-speaking canvassers to spend 12 weeks engaging with Latino community members in different neighborhoods each week to hear about how the magazine could better serve the people. From the in-depth surveys and conversations canvassers had with individuals, Borderless created a playbook guide for other news outlets to implement field canvassers to engage and listen to their communities. Nissa Rhee, co-founder and executive director of Borderless, led the effort to create the playbook, assisted by community engagement reporter Diane Bou Khalil.

Organization Background: Borderless Magazine is an independent online publication located in Chicago, Illinois, that focuses on issues related to immigration, labor, justice, and advocacy in the Midwest. The magazine works to transform immigration journalism to promote a just and equitable future. Borderless is a non-profit entity and a member of the Institute for Nonprofit News.


Project Goals

From the start, Borderless wanted to combine grassroots techniques with journalism, using field canvassers to better understand and serve their Spanish-language audiences. They documented everything along the way in the hopes that both themselves and others could benefit from the experience. They leveraged their successes to make their journalism stronger. 

Diane Bou Khalil, a community engagement reporter with Borderless, described her personal goals as mainly connecting with community members and letting them know that their reporting exists to respond to their needs through resource guides and listening sessions. 

Project Resources

Two canvassers were enlisted following the journalists’ job advertisement seeking bilingual community members willing to contribute to their community’s welfare. Both field canvassers spoke Spanish fluently, had previously lived in one of the target communities, and had a connection to immigration, whether themselves or their families. The canvassers were paid an “hourly rate” with a transportation stipend and spent 12 weeks in the communities they were surveying to commit to the in-depth surveys and conversations they had with individuals. The canvassers met weekly with Borderless to identify where to find people to speak with and administer surveys to. Canvassers used the online survey and printed copies of Borderless comic books and stories to engage with people. Editorial assistance for the playbook was provided by the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute, while financial backing was received from the North America Innovation Challenge of the Google News Initiative.

Tools & Technology

The canvassers and Borderless employees used Google Docs and a diary to track weekly progress and notes from meetings. There was a master document of information for the canvassers to refer to about basic information, common questions, and the link to the online survey. Since the canvassers did not have personal cars for travel, Borderless provided public transportation stipends so the canvassers could take the bus and train to do their work. 


The main impact involved producing a playbook for journalists and newsroom leaders interested in exploring new ways to connect with their audiences. It emphasizes how field canvassing can be a useful tool, whether in a two-person newsroom or 200-person newsroom, for both listening to audiences and distributing content. 

Additionally, the effort included developing resource guides as a response to the community needs identified during field canvassing and surveys.

How it Happened

Borderless Magazine learned that Americans’ trust in journalism is at an all-time low. However, distrust in the media is not new, particularly from Black, Latino and immigrant communities that have long criticized how the media’s coverage of their communities has been racist and harmful. Journalists have frequently amplified racism and endangered the lives of individuals from these communities who strive for a better life in the country. This is when Borderless knew journalists must do better.

  • The magazine began in response to media failings following President Trump’s Muslim Travel Ban in 2017. Since late 2019, they have been dedicated to combating racist and harmful media portrayals of immigrants.
  • These journalists observed the longstanding distrust people have in the media and aimed to improve their reporting by working alongside people of color, thus ensuring better representation in the newsroom. 
  • Many individuals with restricted internet access expressed a preference for more accessible, in-person media coverage. This aligns with their desire for a more personalized media experience. 
  • Many individuals turned to nontraditional news such as social media posts, fliers, and word of mouth to obtain information about resources and other current events. They wanted simpler methods to interact with their communities.

What Worked

1. Understanding community needs

Tabling at events was very successful in finding out what the community needs. Offering food and drinks served as a key incentive, encouraging individuals to come forward and organically engage in conversation. Since the canvassers were fluent in Spanish as well, they were able to talk to more people. Furthermore, the canvassers’ fluency in Spanish allowed them to communicate with their broader target audience. Tabling at each event the canvassers attended was targeted for each neighborhood so Borderless could understand community-specific needs that had to be addressed. 

Reporters worked on short and long surveys in Spanish and English for canvassers to hand out to a different community each week, and they received feedback on community needs. If questions were to arise regarding access to resources such as food stamps or obtaining a state identification card, Borderless created comprehensive resource guides with this information. Through answering surveys and subscribing to newsletters, the community helped Borderless produce news about topics they are familiar with because they are the community, the driving force of community journalism.

2. Providing a resource guide for other publications

Creating a playbook for any publication to follow, such as Mother Jones who has used the playbook, is a way to promote news accessibility. When news is accessible, people are aware the organization exists while also letting them know they are in control of the news because they drive the news. Traditional journalism is very quick and done, hardly involving the community. This playbook serves as a guide for newsrooms to show that news is more than writing and publishing. It works as a reminder that news is about distributing accessible information to all communities because they forward the news too.

3. Developing a media kit

Media kits were provided to both canvassers to ensure they had access to all necessary resources. These kits were stored in tote bags that included but were not limited to, items such as badges displaying the organization’s name, excel sheets with all the occurring events in the neighborhood, newsletter sign-up sheets, notepads for observations, and promotional items like hats, t-shirts and Borderless comic books.

The canvassers carried these kits with them which were especially beneficial when tabling events because they engaged with community members across various neighborhoods and promptly provided them with necessary resources. The newsletter sign-up sheet was a fast and effective method for addressing the community’s immediate needs and ensuring they could access the information all at once.

What Could Have Worked Better

1. Hiring canvassers with transportation

One issue Bou Khalil felt with the field canvasser program was the lack of transportation and how it affected the canvassers’ ability to easily travel around the areas they were visiting. Although Borderless was able to provide each canvasser with their own stipend for bus and train transportation, Bou Khalil said future field canvassers may be hired with personal transportation in mind to make the process easier.

2. Approaching more diverse communities

Despite the focus of Borderless being on immigrant communities in and around Chicago, and this program’s emphasis on Latino neighborhoods, Bou Khalil said that since Chicago is so diverse, it would be both interesting and beneficial to expand the communities canvassers visit. For its first round of field canvassers, and only having two canvassers, focusing on one language spoken can be a good step to start with. Now, Bou Khalil says Borderless will be approaching more diverse communities with canvassers to capture the interests and needs of a larger population.

3. Increasing number of canvassers

As mentioned previously, the Borderless initiative in 2022 only had two field canvassers doing the work to do surveys and interviews. The canvassers were very effective and spoke with over 110 Spanish speakers in the neighborhoods they visited. Bou Khalil said that having only two canvassers limited the number of responses or areas the initiative was able to receive or visit. Now, Borderless is increasing the number of field canvassers they hire to reach out to communities so that they can maximize the amount of feedback from individuals.

What Else You Should Know

  • In 2023, Borderless Magazine won Gather’s Online Journalism Award for Overall Excellence in a Micro/Small Newsroom. Gather focuses on recognizing community-centered journalism and awarded Borderless Magazine’s use of grassroots-level fieldwork. 
  • Nissa Rhee took the lead in writing the field canvasser playbook but had assistance from the entire Borderless team and its two canvassers. The initiative also received editorial support from the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute and financial support from Google News Initiative’s North American Innovation Challenge. 
  • Borderless is now working with a larger group of field canvassers and continues to iterate on the initiative.  They are actively seeking feedback to expand the initiative.
  • The canvasser playbook is publicly available online for any publication, organization, or individual to use.

Learn More

To learn more, reach out to Nissa Rhee by email at or Diane Bou Khalil at You can also check out the following links:

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