This week we say goodbye to our two standout reporters, Genesis Lara and Nick Phillips.
Genesis is moving to Tucson, where she’ll cover K-12 education for the Arizona Daily Star. Her last day was Wednesday.
Nick is headed for Phoenix, where he’ll cover the Governor’s Office for the Arizona Capitol Times. Friday is his last day here.
For Genesis, a Nogales native, this was her first full-time job after graduating from the University of Arizona in the spring of 2018. By that fall, she was the only reporter on staff as we worked to cover local elections and the Trump administration’s decision to send Army troops to Nogales to “fortify” the border. It was a challenging initiation for a rookie reporter, and she rose to the occasion, covering not only those big news stories, but also keeping the community informed about several important court cases, county and fire district budgets, and local issues related to the Mexican peso and tariffs.
In early December, Nick arrived to fortify the NI’s reporting ranks. A New Englander, he had spent two years in Argentina, learning Spanish and getting started on a career in journalism as a freelancer. He began his tenure here by familiarizing himself with the local culture – his very first assignment was to cover a pair of Virgin of Guadalupe processions – and he quickly learned how stories from Ambos Nogales can take off when a feel-good piece he wrote about a little girl from Sonora whose letter to Santa was carried by balloon to a man in Patagonia was picked up by news outlets worldwide.
The next year, 2019, saw Nick and Genesis begin to really hit their strides. Some of Genesis’ best work that year included a story about a mother and daughter separated by the border wall who shared a moment leading up to the daughter’s U.S. high school graduation through a mesh screen, and a vividly descriptive feature on a Mexican ranching tradition known as the “corrida” that also answered the question of where all those cows crossing into the U.S. through Nogales come from. Stories like these helped her win the Community Journalist of the Year awards from both the Arizona Press Club and the Arizona Newspaper Association.
Meanwhile, Nick shined as our City Hall reporter, serving as a community watchdog with stories such as one that showed how elected officials’ travel expenses had gone up at the same time that they where insisting on budgetary belt-tightening. Meanwhile, he tracked other city-related issues, including an ongoing feud between the city and Border Patrol over the installation of razor wire on the local border fence.
In another Border Patrol-related story – one of our most-read stories of 2019 – Nick documented how a rancher seized a camera the agency planted on his property and that he said was pointed at his house. Stories including “Pilgrims have many motives for trekking to Magdalena” and “In Nogales, port backups weigh heavy on a way of life” further illustrated the uniqueness of life on the border. Nick’s reporting during this period earned him second place for the Arizona Press Club’s Community Journalist of the Year award, as well as a number of other prizes for news and enterprise reporting.
When the pandemic hit at the start of 2020, Nick and Genesis dug in to document the direct and indirect effects the coronavirus was having on the community. They wrote dozens and dozens of stories on the matter, reporting the impacts on schools, restaurants, gyms, gas stations and other businesses, paying particularly close attention to the downtown shops and hit they took – and have continued to take – from the U.S. government’s cross-border travel restrictions.
They also wrote about the healthcare workers on the front lines of the pandemic, and fought significant private sector and local government resistance as they sought to flesh out the health risks for essential workers who continued to labor in the area’s produce warehouses. The NI’s reporting raised questions about the puzzlingly low numbers of hospitalized COVID-19 patients from Santa Cruz County, which resulted in a change in the way the county reported the numbers, and pointed out the county’s troubling discrepancy between high rates of positivity and rock-bottom rates of testing during the early months of the crisis.
As COVID-19 infections began to rise in the local area, Nick and Genesis were offered the chance to work from home. They both said no, that they preferred to come to the office and go out into the community – when necessary – to cover the unfolding crisis. They also had their hours and pay cut by 20 percent for a period in early 2020, but continued to give 100-percent effort.
2020 was a scary and confusing year in Santa Cruz County, and the NI did our best to give people the facts about what was happening around them, and seek answers to people’s questions and concerns. We continued to do that in 2021 as the vaccines were rolled out and life slowly began to return to pre-pandemic norms.
Genesis Lara and Nick Phillips can leave the NI knowing that they played a vital role in keeping their community informed while also informing the outside world of the truths and realities of life in this border town. And when a public health crisis of historic proportions hit, they were up to the challenge. They should feel proud of the important work they did here, and our readers should feel proud of them as well.
(Clark is managing editor of the Nogales International.)