The Whitehorse-based reporter, who won a Canadian Association of Journalists award in 2014 for her four-part Tyee series on the TFW, discusses immigration and social justice reporting.

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Krystle Alarcon is a mobile multimedia journalist. In 2013, she published a four-part series on Canada’s controversial temporary foreign worker program in The Tyee that won a Canadian Association of Journalists Award for labour reporting in 2014. 


J-Source: Why did you take this topic on?

Alarcon: I was angry at the lack of representation of minorities in all of the papers I was reading and I thought maybe I should be that person. I always noticed Filipinos were doing menial jobs. That really bothered me just because I know many of them are educated because it’s just something that we really value in our culture and a lot of them are willing to come here and make a sacrifice and sort of demote themselves just to get a foot in the door. I knew from my work as a former activist they were doing this through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, because it was just the easiest program for them.

My parents came here in 1975, and they were able to practise their professions. They were lab technicians and they had work waiting for them when they arrived. They never had to jump through hoops. They bought a house right away. So I came from this very privileged perspective, too. I felt like the people now that are coming in, they don’t have the same chances—so I wanted to look into that for my thesis [as a student at the University of British Columbia], which was The Invisibles.


J-Source: That was your thesis? 

Alarcon: Yes—my supervisor was also one of the main writers for The Tyee, Deborah Campbell. I gathered all this information and it morphed a lot. My initial proposal was to do something about live-in caregivers and I was going to look into their housing conditions. It just kind of evolved until finally I wanted to broaden into the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and the exploitation within that program in general. 


J-Source:  Did you plan it as a four-part series?

Alarcon: No. Well, first of all, I just had so much information because I wanted to look into basically how it’s not isolated cases. So, I looked into the journalism databases and then I found all of these cases of temporary foreign workers dying or having accidents. I also wanted to end with academics, union leaders or researchers who had already looked into what could be solutions and criticize the program.


J-Source:  What does it mean to you to get your message out in that way?

Alarcon: I think I always wanted to give voice to the voiceless, and that is still my passion. I was really happy to bring that voice there, that these people are not cash cows and we shouldn’t pit Canadians and foreign workers against each other. One of the temporary foreign workers I interviewed, Alfredo, was very much of that kind of personality as well; he stood up for his co-workers and so I think he was really happy that we did something together to kind of show a systemic sort of aspect of it.


J-Source:  What was the hardest part about doing the story?

Alarcon: Access to temporary foreign workers themselves was the hardest part. Because of their status, they never want to talk to the media. They think it will jeopardize their application for permanent residency and they just want to be silent and accept whatever’s happening to them—which was what the problem is and is why it doesn’t get exposed.  

With Alfredo, I had to spend I don’t know how many coffees with him. I think what always is the case with people with sensitive stories is to make it a point to say, “OK, this is not going to be a 10-minute interview. This could be a three-hour coffee conversation and I’m probably not even going to get the interview that day.” You just need to take time to build trust and find a real connection with that person.  


J-Source:  What’s the biggest thing you learned?

Alarcon: I realized there’s all these academics and researchers and scholars that are way ahead of journalists. There was never anyone who provided a systemic analysis of the program in journalism. We get stories where we think, “OK, this is breaking news,” and put it out right away. It’s important to do that, but without looking at the overall picture, it would have just been another one of those articles. Analysis on controversial issues is really important.  


J-Source:  What’s the most recent story you’ve done?

Alarcon: I just did a story on the lack of help for immigrants who want to speak to someone with Citizenship and Immigration Canada. There is a new official in town, but she’s only accessible by phone via a toll-free number, and to see her, you need to book an appointment from that number—and you’re only given an appointment if they’re deemed as important cases. Basically they’re given the runaround. Apparently the CIC official before was a walk-in office and so since then people have been left in the dark.  


J-Source:  Do you have any advice you would give to future journalists?

Alarcon: One of my main things was to stick to my passion. At the end of the day, immigration, social justice, labour, women’s equality, LGBTQ rights—those are the stories that really get to me and those are the stories that I still always chase. I still do think that there’s a lack of representation of minorities of all colours and gender orientation in the media, so I always try to challenge that with my work, and I think that’s what makes me happy being a journalist.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.