This is the first in a series of posts introducing you to the journalists behind the news.
Refugees. Dreamers. Transgender teens. If you recently read an interview with one of these people in The Seattle Times, chances are it was written by reporter Nina Shapiro.
Shapiro joined the staff of The Seattle Times two years ago after 20 years of writing for Seattle Weekly. She specializes in long-form, deeply reported stories about social issues, and she’s been especially busy since Inauguration Day 2017 chronicling the local implications of some of the new administration’s policies.
Recently, Shapiro answered a few questions about how she works.
Q: You interview a lot of people living in vulnerable situations or embroiled in controversial issues. How do you get them to trust you with their stories?
A: I think part of it is my body of work; I sometimes send people links to my stories and say, “This is the kind of thing I do” … I tell them I’m not looking for a quick hit, I’m looking for a longer story and that I really want to find out about your life and help readers understand your life. … But I think a lot of it is chemistry, too. People can sense I’m really interested in them and most people love to talk to people who are interested in what they have to say.
Q: Can you talk about any of your recent stories that affected you emotionally?
A: Photographer Erika Schultz and I went to El Centro de la Raza to watch people make emergency plans in case immigration officers came to them. This one boy – aged 8 or 9 – was watching his dad make arrangements if both his parents were deported. … You know, immigration is a complicated issue and there are valid arguments to make about what our policy should be, but when you watch a little kid contemplate that both his parents could be taken away, and wonder where he would go, it’s really moving. It makes you understand the reality of what it means to carry out immigration enforcement, especially with people who’ve lived here a very long time and often have kids who are American citizens.
Q: What’s the toughest part of your job?
A: I’m very aware of the power and responsibility I have, so I’m always wrestling with making sure that I get things right and that I am not selling anybody short. … Sometimes I have to go back after I’ve had a very empathetic interview and ask some hard questions. It can be really hard, but there’s no other way to fully convey the truth to readers. And you lose readers’ trust if you only present this unrealistic, positive picture. You’ve got to convey people and situations in all their complexities.
Q: What are some common misconceptions about journalists, and about what you do?
A: People often think I’m looking for a good quote. But I often don’t use the snappiest quote, because it’s not reflective of some real emotion or deep thought. Instead, I’m interested in finding out something real that shows some insight.
Notable works by Nina Shapiro
Child TV star turned Yale-educated lawyer leads ‘big fight’ for Northwest immigrants
As the immigration debate turns white-hot, Jorge Barón and his organization, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, have been thrust into the national spotlight. Find out how they’re working to help local immigrants.
‘We have only one shot’: Fred Hutch’s quest to wipe out AIDS in South Africa
Nina Shapiro and Seattle Times photojournalist Erika Schultz traveled to South Africa to show you how Seattle scientists are working with residents of the country’s poorest townships. The goal: an HIV vaccine.
Immigrants use Washington state to sneak into Canada for asylum. Here’s how, and why.
Washington state has become a portal for people seeking asylum in Canada, where they feel they’ll be more welcome than in Donald Trump’s United States.
Luis Cortes lives ‘surreal’ life as immigration lawyer – and a Dreamer
Brought to the U.S. illegally at age 1 by his parents, Luis Cortes grew up being told at times to stay indoors and look after his siblings. He’s now a lawyer, one of only a handful nationwide with such a background.
Aerospace firm Electroimpact agrees to pay $485K after AG finds ‘shocking’ discrimination against Muslims
The state Attorney General’s Office has found that aerospace company Electroimpact discriminated against Muslims and single people. A nearly yearlong investigation followed a Seattle Times story revealing a controversial workplace culture shaped by founder Peter Zieve.
‘Such a joy in so many ways’: 3 immigrants, turned away a week ago, happy to be home
On Feb. 6, 2017, Sea-Tac Airport saw the return of the first man turned away at the airport because of President Trump’s travel ban.
Feds call Nooksack tribal council ‘illegitimate’ and ‘abusive’
The U.S. government takes a fiery stance against a Nooksack tribal council after the tribe sued over state and federal funding.
‘We had something’: African Americans look back with pride and pain on Obama’s tenure
At Seattle’s Central Area Senior Center, people who gathered for bridge and lunch reflect on a president some thought they’d never live to see. They noted he faced fierce and sometimes personal attacks and “showed people how to be a president.”
Transgender surgery for teens: Are they old enough to decide?
The health system, facing a huge increase in transgender kids seeking care and questions about what treatment is appropriate at what ages, is scrambling.
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