The Pride Behind “Ni de aqui, Ni de alla” and Advocacy Journalism with María Elena Salinas

By: Izabella Grimaldo

A voice that isn’t “ni de aqui ni de alla”- not from here nor there, but from both- María Elena Salinas is one of the best-known news anchors in broadcast journalism. Having immeasurable amounts of experiences with Univision allowed her to develop as a professional and as an individual to showcase the passion she had, which later became her duty to fulfill.

Salinas spent almost four decades at Univision as an anchor and reporter where she showcased the issues, heroes and sheroes the Hispanic community in the U.S had to offer. In 2019, after her time at Univision, she became a news contributor to CBS News, highlighting issues that emphasized the importance of the Latino vote throughout the country.

A pioneer in her field, Salinas assures she is not lonely at the top and is only accompanied by the best: her colleagues and her community. She has paved the way to further expand the narrative of Latinos in the U.S through her duty and passion.

“It’s not lonely at the top because they have a lot of people, especially journalists that have done great things…I think we’re all committed to our community. That’s just something that’s innate enough,” said Salinas.

She was raised in a family that was a reflection of the millions of working-class individuals in Southern California. Salinas held on to the constant narrative a lot of Chicanos hold onto- ni de aqui ni de alla– not from one place or the other. The reality is you won’t ever fit into just one community, you will always fit in two. Which makes you twice more of whatever you want to be, twice as smart, twice as hardworking, and twice as talented.

The story of Latinos in the U.S has evolved so much over time, from a growing population to our stories that unfold over time.

“I think that we have made a mark in this country, as a Latino community. But not enough yet. I think there’s so much more room for growth, because one of the challenges that we have going forward is that we are the largest minority in the country. We are the second largest voting bloc in the country. Yet sometimes we’re treated as if we were foreigners in our own country,” said Salinas.

To search for normality means assimilating and accommodating to a country that dims the light of others. Your duty as a journalist is to create a platform and advocate for those lights to be at least a little brighter.

“I know that for years, we were accused of advocacy journalism, as if advocacy journalism was something bad. And it’s not. Because it’s one thing to be an activist. Another thing is to be an advocate. People don’t realize it, but when you advocate for something, if you cover women’s issues, you’re advocating for women,” said Salinas, “So what is the difference between advocating for your community? It’s a much larger group, of course, but I think it’s important to do so. And I don’t think that there is anything wrong with advocacy journalism, with pointing out our trials and tribulations in the media. It’s not something that we should be ashamed of, on the contrary, I think it’s something that we should be proud of.”

The topic of having pride was and always will be a point of conversation among all U.S born Latinos, especially those who have had the opportunity to advance within their community. The tradition of carrying your pride in everything you do is dependent on those who have done it for far more years. As they build this tradition, they build a platform for younger generations to gain the confidence to continue. Making it easier to say- no eres de aqui ni de allá, pero de los dos– y con orgullo.

“Use your voice, don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not good enough and don’t be afraid. That’s one of the best pieces of advice that I can give is don’t give up because fear paralyzes us…Just think what would you do if you weren’t afraid? And just think of the possibilities. Échale ganas, go for it, y no te dejes. Never allow anyone to tell you that you are not good enough or smart enough. Because you are,” said Salinas.

 

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History’s unique repetition, and other musings from a couple of corn-fed Bama boys

By Marcus Robertson

In some ways, the news is the same today as it’s always been: full of people looking to make a difference in their communities.

“We have a simple mission,” Chicago news legend Steve Sanders told me. “Tell the damn truth.”

Sanders, the longtime anchor for WGN, has had a long, impactful career in journalism that many could only hope for. And although we’re from different eras, Sanders shows how across time, journalists are cut from much of the same cloth.

He got into the field after being “entranced” by ABC’s coverage of Watergate in 1972. He felt a moral call, and what he saw on TV inspired him. Here was an American president – a wartime one, at that – whose corruption was being uncovered and aired every night in prime time. Journalists were to thank for that, and Sanders wanted in.

I can’t help but think about the parallels between Sanders’s journalistic upbringing and mine. We were both drawn by a sense of civic duty, and we were both inspired by seismic political stories (mine was the story of Russian ties to the 2016 election of Donald Trump). Then there’s the “Southern thing”: Sanders and I are a couple of college dropouts from Alabama, albeit separated by a few years.

As a young man, Sanders saw the evolution of George Wallace from a fairly progressive lawyer and judge into a staunch segregationist when his first run for governor floundered against a race-baiting opponent. Similarly, I watched as Trump morphed from a self-professed New York democrat into an anti-immigration conservative populist.

“I’m afraid he was a proof of concept,” Sanders said of Trump’s ambition-fueled political shapeshifting. I don’t disagree, but I think Wallace deserves some of the credit: not only did he adopt a racist ideology in order to win power, he also later pulled a complete reversal when it became apparent he wouldn’t win otherwise. It worked.

Despite all the ways the news is the same is ever, the obvious fact is that the industry has changed enormously in the last two or three decades.

“For this new generation, the news is harder than it was in my day,” Sanders said. “There are fewer resources for a lot of news organizations, and fewer staff members. So you end up having to work harder to reach fewer people than I did.”

I have no doubt he’s right. I expect my writing career to be hard, and my job prospects to be uncertain at times. But according to Sanders, I have a leg up on my peers; a “geographic advantage,” as he put it.

“As Alabamans, we’re natural storytellers,” he said. “We grew up telling stories on the front porch, always competing to see who could tell the best one.”

Sanders retired as arguably the reigning champion of the front porch, the South’s finest storyteller.

I bet the crown is just my size.

Doing something different everyday –– journalism is a lifelong career of new somethings

by Rebecca Meluch

Doctors study medicine. Historians study history. Lawyers study the law. And journalists, well, they have to be prepared to study anything and everything.

Before she became a Washington Post political columnist, Karen Tumulty covered Congress, the White House, economics, business and elected officials for the now defunct San Antonio Light, Los Angeles Times, TIME Magazine, and The Post.

Growing up, Tumulty knew she wanted a career that would be different every day and allow her to learn more about people, “Well, I think I was just curious, and I really wanted a job that wasn’t going to be the same thing day in and day out. And certainly, journalism has been that,” she said.

After Tumulty left the San Antonio Light, she became a political correspondent for TIME Magazine in 1994. She said that the transition between the two really forced her to evolve.

“I learned you really have to be flexible,” she said. “It was still a magazine that came out once a week. So, your whole metabolism was gearing it, you spent the whole week gearing up for whatever you were going to be turning in on Friday, it was a different process.”

During her career, Tumulty has worked on many long-term projects like reporting on the changing politics in West Virginia to tracking down a Vietnam veteran who gave former President Obama a military patch in a hotel elevator during his campaign in 2008.

But the real challenge for Tumulty was writing and publishing a book.

I observed that Tumulty’s weekly columns typically span between 600 and 900 words. Her book, “The Triumphs of Nancy Reagan” is over 600 pages.

 “So, I, to tell you the truth , didn’t know all that much what I was doing,” she said. Although Tumulty has been in the journalism industry for over 40 years, writing a book was a tremendous learning experience –– literally. She spent at least two years just researching about Nancy Reagan, and the entire publishing process culminated to four and a half years.

The idea of writing the book wasn’t her own and prior to writing it, she didn’t realize how complex a person the former first lady was, but she was up for the task and for something new.

“Nancy Reagan, this wasn’t my idea. It was an idea that my publisher Simon and Schuster came up with. And they came to me and said, ‘Do you want to write this book,’” Tumulty said.  “But I just really had no idea how complex a person she was going to be, or, you know, all the many, many ways that she influenced policy, which is not something we necessarily associate with our first ladies.”

Two to three sources may do the trick for a 600 to 900 word story, I can only imagine the amount it takes for a 600 page book. To write a book about Reagan, Tumulty needed to interview people who may have known her while she was first lady –– and that itself was also a challenge.

Nancy Reagan passed away in 2016 at 95 years old. Some of the people Tumulty interviewed about Reagan were also in their 90s, like George Shultz who was Secretary of State at the time of Reagan’s presidency. “He [Shultz] was 97 years old when I talked to him,” Tumulty said.  “In fact, he just died a few months ago, at the age of 100. There were a number of people I talked to like that, you know, really, we’re coming to the end of their lives. And I think, in some cases, [they] decided they were going to tell these stories now or the stories were never going to get told.”

The book-writing process was long and challenging but for Tumulty, it was something new and different from writing a column. Journalists sometimes need something new.

“I really think that a mix is the most satisfying. On the one hand, you get the real rush of doing something right on deadline,” Tumulty said. “But I really would go crazy if that is all I did. I would also go crazy if four and a half year projects were all I did too. So, I really do love having a mix of things. I think it sort of keeps me on my toes and keeps me fresh.”

Journalism is a forever evolving industry that requires the people in it to adapt and try new things. As a young journalist, I don’t know yet where this career will take me, and I find that terrifying.

But if someone like Tumulty, who has been in the industry for over 40 years, is still curious, learning and reporting in new ways –– I know that I too, must keep an open mind.

I’m not quite ready to write a book though.

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Going Back to Basics with Rehema Ellis

By Becky Budds

NBC’s Rehema Ellis wasn’t born knowing how to cover stories like Hurricane Katrina and 9/11 though her poise and skill make it seem like that. What prepared her is something she learned from legendary broadcaster Roger Mudd who said, “report what you know. And if you don’t know something, don’t pretend like you do.”

This advice has served her well during her 40 years in the business. After graduating college, Ellis got her start at KDKA TV and radio in Pittsburgh, eventually moving to WHDH-TV in Boston, and finally landing at NBC News in 1994. In 2010, she was named the chief education correspondent on NBC’s Nightly News where I’ve watched her countless times on my TV.

I always thought there was a special secret to becoming a wildly successful journalist like Rehema Ellis. Something professors don’t tell you in JOUR 101 and 102, a code you can only crack by being the best. But through my conversation with her I realized that simplicity and adherence to fundamental principles is all you need. They call it “going back to basics”—a return to a simpler way of doing something or thinking about something.

In journalism that means asking those 5 W’s and an H. “Who, what, when, where, how and why. If those questions are asked, every single time you will get to the truth,” said Ellis. And getting to the truth, she says, has never been more important.

As media literacy falls and the lines between opinion and facts are blurred every day, it’s a journalist’s job and duty to be as unbiased and accurate as possible. “It’s not my job to speculate, it’s not my job to imagine, it’s not my job. I’m not a pundit, I’m not a columnist. I am a reporter,” she said. “So, I want to report on what I know. What I see. And I leave it to other people to draw conclusions about the information that they have been given.”

What may seem obvious, can be easy to forget. Everyday there are journalists who voice their opinions online or forget to verify information. There are journalists who aren’t asking the right questions. That’s why Ellis says it’s important to “read, read, read, and read some more.” Politicians will constantly try to spin you and inflate the truth, so “it’s important to exhaust yourself with material and be prepared to almost know the answer to the questions you’re asking,” she said.

Stressing again how important it is to stay unbiased, she says it’s important to read things you like and things you don’t agree with. Read everything and read it often. In order to better be a better reporter, “it’s important to know the opinions that are out there,” she said. The viewers will thank you for it.

Ellis says her days at NBC differ greatly from those at KDKA and WHDH-TV. At local stations, there are morning shifts and night shifts. But “when you get on to the network, you are the shift. From the beginning until the story is over,” she said. “It’s very tiring. It’s very taxing. But it can be very rewarding because you feel like you own that story. And so, at the end of the day, no one is more tuned into that story than you.”

Ellis’ experiences covering Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, the Haiti earthquake and more, taught her that journalism is a lot like fighting fires. “We go where there is a fire. We put the fire out and then we leave, she said. “We never tell you what it takes to rebuild. We never tell you the long lasting and sustained agony and pain and anguish, that’s day to day. We don’t do that because the definition of news is what’s happening now.”

It’s a reminder that we don’t always have the answers to every problem and that behind the headlines are human beings.

If you watch any of Ellis’ stories, it’s no surprise that her trophy shelf is stocked full. Throughout her career she’s received many awards for her storytelling such as local and national Emmys, Edward R. Murrow Awards, Associated Press awards and awards from the National Association of Black Journalists. She’s also a recipient of an Honorary Doctorate Degree in Journalism. Awards that an aspiring journalist like me could only dream of.

At the end of our call. She cautioned me about success and left me with this, “Awards and accolades are wonderful, but they just are not very comfortable to sleep with,” she said. “At the end of the day, I hope that you make certain that you have a full life. Because the fullness of your life will enhance the intensity of your reporting.”

But they don’t teach you how to have a full life in a textbook or a classroom. That’s something we as young journalists must find out on our own. And in an industry filled with long hours, strict deadlines, and a never-ending news cycle, that can be hard to do.

But no matter where I’m at in my career, I’ll always remember to go back to basics: stick to the facts, report what you know, and read constantly.

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How an Eight-year-old Discovered a Problem in Newsrooms Before Even Getting to One

By: Izabella Grimaldo

One of the first times I walked into a newsroom was at CBS Chicago at eight-years-old. I stepped out of my westside bubble and stumbled into Chicago’s downtown- a place where suits and heels were the norm compared to the working boots back home.

I started feeling the pressure of being a first-generation student younger than eight years old, but with the pressure came the good grades and with the good grades came the free field trips. Honor roll students from Schubert Elementary school got the chance to go to CBS Chicago with one parent, have lunch with journalists and walk-through CBS Chicago’s offices.

The nerves were getting to me-with a million butterflies in my stomach- at the mention of my father’s name and mine to walk in. “Adrian and Izabella Grimaldo? You can go in now!” My heart skipped a beat. We walked over to talk to the anchors and reporters, but I remember turning away and seeing the newsroom in full action and falling in love for the first time at eight-years-old.

My relationship with news was strictly in Spanish, with Univision always on at home.  After seeing the demand, the pressure, the high-paced environment, I knew I wanted to be here, but most importantly needed to be here because no one else like me was. The room was filled with well-educated journalists, who spoke so eloquently. The only ones close to the resemblance of my dad and I were the maintenance staff who happily greeted us with “Hola, muy Buenos Dias!”- that felt like home.

I was just a child when I learned “Educated” and “Educado” are a direct translation of each other but have a very different meaning in the English and Spanish languages.  I was raised to always be Educada, well-mannered and polite. Though as I grew up, “educated” was having the highest degree you could meet and flaunt how you worked to get there.

The maintenance staff were Educados; they were kind and worked so hard surrounded by a group of people who often ignored them. I found myself torn between being next to the people who gave me a home away from home and being with those who looked at me funny for smiling at them and speaking Spanish that day, torn between being Educated and Educada.

When I decided on starting a career in journalism, I had one thing pushing me to stay-regardless of the many experiences telling me to leave: Be the person you wanted to see when you were eight years old in that newsroom. Be the one to demand representation and understanding of the diverse communities in the city.

Over 20 percent of the population in the U.S is Hispanic, with only 7.8 percent of Hispanics in newsrooms. The fact is local reporting from a diverse team is vital to journalism. It is not, however, a battle between Latino and U.S. journalism; it’s just journalism, serving the public no matter who that is.

The transitions in these communities from first-generation to second and third are happening fast and it is up to newsrooms to adapt to these changes. This starts by creating opportunities for Latinos to enter newsrooms and be there for their communities. To advocate for their stories and build a bridge of trust and communications with the community and the media.

I knew that I was an idealist- eager to tackle an issue that was far bigger than me- but now at 22 I can happily say I still hold the heart and hope an eight-year-old Latina from the West Side held then. Still demanding, still building, and still hoping for a space my colleagues and I can grow. Space where I could be both educated and educada, just as my community taught me.

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Implicit Bias of Latino youth in the media

By Jocelyn Martinez-Rosales

In recent weeks, the Chicago Police killing of 13-year-old Adam Toledo has ignited demonstrations and a city-wide outcry for police accountability. Mainstream news reports as well as hyper-local media have followed the story closely. Simultaneously, opinion pieces have also sprouted causing controversy and push-back.

Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn, was one of the first to write his opinions about the incident, “it’s not too early to stop romanticizing and infantilizing 13-year-olds,” Zorn writes in a column published before police body cam footage was released.

Zorn received heat from Chicago journalists and activists via Twitter. Many questioned if he would have written the opinion piece the same way had Toledo been White. It was only when Zorn was under fire that he deleted his tweet history including tweets about his column and opinion.

In a video produced by the New York Times, implicit bias is explored with an analogy. The video titled Peanut Butter, Jelly and Racism breaks it down, “we’ve all grown up in a culture with media images, news images, conversations we’ve heard at home, our education. Think about a fog we’ve been breathing our whole life, we never even realized it, what we were taking in. That fog causes associations that lead to biases.”

For Toledo, it wasn’t long for the reports to come out of his association with gangs in Little Village and of course, questions about why a preteen was out at two in the morning accompanied by a 21-year-old and a firearm. While as journalists, it’s important to report details, how we frame those details makes a difference.

One Sun Times’ headline reads, “Gang members ‘instructed’ to shoot at police vehicles after Adam Toledo shooting, cops warned.”

If you’re reading that headline, now you’re making associations between gang activity and Toledo. Why is a Latino gang threatening to shoot at police vehicles? Is Toledo a Latin King? These questions and now connections between gang activity and a 13-year-old are made.

Little Village is a predominantly Mexican neighborhood in the west side of Chicago. It’s the neighborhood where soon-to-be 15-year-old girls go to buy their quinceanera dress, where you can find some of the best taco joints and the only place where you can find obscure Mexican cheeses in the city. But if you type in Little Village into a Google search engine, the top stories are shootings, death and violence.

The reality is that Little Village is an underprivileged neighborhood with a median household income of $33,989. For the week of March 22 to March 28 of 2021, the Chicago Police Department District 10 located in the Little Village neighborhood reports five shooting incidents and 40 so far this year.

If the only time a neighborhood makes news headlines is for its crime rate, what does that do to our implicit bias? Columnists who have preconceived notions about brown youth and areas in the city like Little Village begin to not see our youth as youth.

In a 2019 study conducted by Pew Research, it revealed Hispanic Americans were 26 percent more likely than Black and White adults to think their personal interests were misunderstood by the news media. Additionally, predominantly Latino neighborhoods felt less of a connection to local journalists and news organizations.

Implicit bias is inevitable but if we begin to recognize and understand why we have certain associations with races, cultures, economic status etc. then as journalists we can begin to report from different lenses.

In an op-ed by Mateo Zapata published also by the Chicago Tribune, Zapata writes, “we need solutions that begin with telling our own stories so that we can take back control of our narratives and defend the humanity of Adam and all the other kids like him.”

As members of the world of journalism, demanding accountability from peers and news organizations is vital to stop narratives that perpetrate implicit bias and continue a false narrative of Latino youth.

 

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Mental health is getting more attention in the news industry – but are self-care breaks feasible when news orgs are cutting staff left and right?

By Marcus Robertson

As humanity races toward a future with increasingly dire possibilities, journalists have a duty to ensure the public understands every facet of the most pressing issues we face.

To do otherwise is to violate the Society of Professional Journalists’ core principle, “Minimize Harm.” After all, today’s media landscape is fraught with lies, like the ongoing “stolen election” claim initiated by then-Pres. Donald Trump. If we don’t fight it, we are allowing minds to be poisoned.

But how do we find a balance when covering the relentless onslaught of doom, gloom, and tragedy? That kind of constant exposure can wreak havoc on anyone’s psychological wellbeing – but covering it is our responsibility. Are we meant to also minimize harm to ourselves?

“The data tells us that journalists are exposed to traumatic events at a higher rate than many soldiers,” clinical psychologist and trauma specialist Dr. Kevin Becker told the Poynter Institute. “As such, they are at increased risk for the mental health impacts related to the losses and tragedies associated with Covid-19.”

How often must we brush aside feelings of burnout and push on in the name of the greater good?

Within the last year, I’ve started to take my own mental health seriously. I sought out a therapist through the Jesse Brown V.A. Health Center, where I receive largely free healthcare as a veteran. I’ve diligently taken my new anti-depression medication every day, and I’ve kept all my therapy appointments.

It’s helped, but it hasn’t immunized me against the torrent of trauma I’m tasked to keep up with. Maybe reporters should periodically take a break. At the same time, that idea sounds so foreign and incongruent with success in journalism.

If all of my peers are working their asses off constantly, why do I deserve a break?

There’s a view among some in the industry of journalism as a kind of intellectual holy war against lies and injustice. If that’s the model we’re called to emulate, then perhaps we’re meant to embody what Iraq War veteran Kevin Bakker said to mewhen describing his love for those he fought for.

“If I have to choose between my life and yours, fuck you. Go live,” Bakker said. “I’m out.”

Under this view, burnout from constant trauma exposure is just a tragic fact of life on the information battlefield. I might take a bullet or two, but if I can still stand, I had better press on and keep fighting the good fight.

But perhaps it’s better to instead treat mental health and self-care like oxygen masks in an airplane – you can do more to help others if you first take the time to help yourself. I can serve the public much longer if I take the time to care for myself and come back fresh, right? After I graduate and land that job I’ve dreamt of, will I even be allowed to take breaks like that? Should I be allowed to?

I suspect no one can give a definite answer, because as the cliché goes, these are unprecedented times. There’s no roadmap for where we’re going.

Should I put my oxygen mask on before I help everyone else? I wish I could answer that.

All I know is that it’s getting hard to breathe.

 

 

The Need for a Town Square

By Rebecca Meluch

Growing up I thought I needed to be a doctor. When I first came to DePaul, I enrolled as a biology major, pre-medicine student. I idly walked to science classes, studied for exams, and went to lab. But after an entire year, I realized writing lab reports was the only thing I enjoyed in my major. I had a knack for explaining what I observed and documenting it for others to understand. I realized I could maybe make a career out of that. The summer before my sophomore year I changed my major to journalism.

It was quite a large leap going from pre-med to journalism, but when I wrote my first story that was published, I knew that I made the right choice.

I only wish that I knew sooner.

Students enrolled in DePaul’s journalism program, many –– not all –– came to college knowing they wanted to major in journalism. They either wrote for their high schools’ publications, took journalism classes as juniors and seniors, or grew up reading their local newspapers. They had knowledge and background in the field, and maybe some local journalists they already respected. I did not.

I grew up in a small city called Olmsted Falls, on the outskirts of Cleveland, Ohio. When I was in high school and prepared to digest the news, we didn’t have any dependable local journalism outlets. My school didn’t offer any journalism classes, and our school paper was wildly ignored. It’s only now as a college senior that I learned my high school had a paper in the first place.

Cleveland was once prized with The Plain Dealer –– it’s version of The Chicago Tribune. I remember as a child seeing my mom and dad hand pages back and forth to each other, my mom mostly for the coupons, my dad for the sports. I remember passing The Plain Dealer’sgigantic office building on Tiedeman Road whenever my family hopped on the turnpike to take a trip downtown.

Looking from it on the outside, I would have never been able to see how as every year passed, fewer and fewer bodies, journalists and editors took up that gigantic space.

In the early 2000’s The Plain Dealer employed over 350 writers and editors. By 2020, the 179-year-old newspaper employed zero.

The rise of the internet, advertising costs, union busting, lack of readership and distrust in the news –– all ultimately led to The Plain Dealer’s decline.

As The Plain Dealer first began to tear away in ashes, Cleveland.com rose. It’s a mediocre at best, online only, lesser quality, non-unionized news site that barely covers Cleveland’s small towns and lacks the coverage on beats The Dealer once had.

My hometown of Olmsted Falls lost the coverage The Dealer once gave, we lost what my parents used to call our very own town square. People lost interest in reading the news, and I had no physical example of what journalism was –– only that I stopped seeing a Plain Dealer at the end of my driveway on Sunday mornings.

What happened to The Plain Dealer happened all over the country. Local news outlets were being bought out and gutted by corporate hedge funds, papers had to lay off their staff, drop hundreds of beats and abandon coverage in areas that relied on it.

Margaret Sullivan is the media columnist for The Washington Post. But before she was at The Post, she was the top editor at The Buffalo News for 13 years –– another local journalism outlet that had to make massive layoffs and saw its readership and coverage decline.

In her book, “Ghosting the News” Sullivan wrote about the local news crisis –– and the dissipation of local outlets.

She discovered that since 2004, more than 2,000 American newspapers have closed their doors. From 2004-2015 the U.S. newspaper industry lost over 1,800 print outlets as a result of closures and mergers.

In the news industry, there are the haves and have nots. There are nationally read papers like The Washington Post and The New York Times which substantially have been able to maintain readership and print a physical paper.

And then there are the local outlets –– the outlets that are equipped with people who want to cover small towns and everyday people but aren’t given the money and resources to –– who are left with the decision to merge, adapt, or die.

Local news is vital for small communities to remain connected –– not only with what is happening in their city, but who is living there.

Fans from all over the state of Ohio decreased at my school’s football games –– because there was no one there to cover our team or our top marching band program on a regular basis. People were shocked to hear we had a student who received a near full ride to Harvard, because there wasn’t a reporter who covered local high school scholarship recipients anymore.

Residents played guessing games with one another because they didn’t know what brand-new business was being built in front of the police station.

Without a local news outlet, people became uninformed and distant with one another.

Devoid of a town square that keeps one in touch with the world and its possibilities, people might go on unaware of what is even out there for them to do or see. The loss of local journalism led people astray, people like me who spent an entire year studying to be a doctor, when I could have known earlier, I wanted to be a writer.

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501(c)3 Status: Coming to A Local Newspaper Near You

By Becky Budds

Nearly 1,800 local newspapers have disappeared since 2004, according to a 2018 study by UNC Chapel Hill. But even newsrooms lucky enough to stay afloat have lost the ability to comprehensively cover their community due to layoffs and budget cuts. Now as my hometown newspaper The Chicago Tribune prepares to be bought out by Alden Global Capital, I’m left wondering about the future of local journalism.

But I’ve realized the answer to saving newsrooms across the country comes in the form of a tax status. 501(c)3 status, to be exact.

We know nonprofits to be primarily charities or universities, but what about newspapers? As advertisers pull out from traditional media and readers turn to their phones to keep up with the news, the for-profit model of newspapers has become outdated. Switching to a nonprofit model is the breath of life the industry needs.

Nonprofit organizations don’t have to pay taxes on their income, but their activities must serve the public interest rather than the interest of owners or shareholders and they can’t “participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates,” according to the IRS. What kind of organization serves public interest and stays out of politics better than a news organization? To me, it’s a no-brainer.

Nonprofits must also have a board of directors to oversee operations. However, the board doesn’t interfere with the reporting or what’s being reported on. For example, my local nonprofit station, Naperville Community Television (NCTV), has a board of directors consisting of community members who are passionate about the mission and want to donate their time.

In an era of newspaper chains being owned by hedge funds that have strip-mined local outlets, it’s refreshing for newsrooms to focus on community members instead of greedy CEOs. It’s refreshing for newsrooms to focus on investigating and telling the truth instead of the bottom line.

Nonprofit newsrooms still have to make enough money to pay people and keep the lights on, but it’s much easier to raise donations and grant money than to convince people to subscribe.In fact, the latest INN Index of member revenues showed less reliance on foundation grants and more income from recurring donations and memberships.

It gives community members the option to “buy in” to their local news and be able to trust that it’s not influenced by advertisers or shareholders. A reader could click on five articles or a hundred articles— they will never encounter a paywall.

Nonprofit newsrooms are small, but mighty. In 2019 NCTV’s revenue was $1.2 million and in 2020 84% of their operating expenses went towards their mission of “telling local stories on air and online.” From city hall meetings to parades and high school football games, NCTV is there for it all thanks to support from local businesses and Napervillians alike. And because they’re there for it all, the community is more than happy to come out and provide support.

Nonprofit journalism isn’t a new concept. Naperville Community Television has been nonprofit since 2003. Notable publications like National Public Radio (NPR) and ProPublica have been nonprofit for quite some time. And the movement is growing.

In the past few years, two major newspapers — The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Salt Lake Tribune — made the switch to nonprofit. The industry is watching them closely. The Institute for Nonprofit News counts around 250 news outlets in its membership, of which 62 percent focus on local and state reporting, according to the 2020 INN Index.

The Knight Foundation declared 2020 the “Year of Nonprofit Local News,” citing the rapid growth of nonprofit news organizations and a business model “tailored for tough times.” They have also found that “nonprofit outlets have launched at a pace of a dozen or more a year since 2008, with 31 INN members launched in 2018-2019.”

I understand that switching to a nonprofit model isn’t easy, and it doesn’t just happen overnight. Newspapers were designed to be for profit. While many of them don’t churn out hefty profits anymore, they’re still worth millions of dollars.

When the Salt Lake Tribune became nonprofit, it’s owner Paul Huntsman gave up his role as sole owner and publisher. Now, he serves as chairman of the board. Huntsman could’ve made budget cuts or sold the paper to a large hedge fund. Instead, he relinquished his power for the good of the paper.

Without leaders like Huntsman, communities across the country will continue to go without accurate and comprehensive local news.

If your local newspaper is nonprofit, become a donor. Donate your time. Share their articles. Every contribution counts and your community will be better from it. We need good, accurate local journalism now more than ever.

 

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The Balancing Act of Broadcast: A Conversation with Érika Maldonado

By Joanna Talabani

If you’ve seen Érika Maldonado anchor the nightly news on Univision Chicago where she’s been for 16+ years, you’ve grown accustomed to the flawless woman she presents in HD. You might be surprised to learn that beneath the glamour, the broadcaster has struggled with self-image as a result of it. This is why she advises against getting into the industry if you are drawn by the cameras and the adoration. “That might satisfy you for a while,” she cautions.

But after her broadcasts, she describes going home and removing the makeup and feeling like she was wearing a mask. It left her questioning which version was the real her. She understands that’s part of the business, telling me “It’s a two-way street and this is a visual media.”

Érika had an image that was carefully curated by the news director, image consultants, and makeup artists that consisted of hair extensions and fake eyelashes that did not feel like her. But she tells me that when you work for a network, it’s a reciprocal relationship and one can’t just do what they want. “I agreed to that. And when I didn’t like it anymore, I found a way without being rebellious, with working with them, to make them understand that I didn’t feel comfortable wearing that anymore.”

Érika did not get into the business to be fawned at. To her, being a journalist means, “that you are in a life of service. You serve the community, by giving them information and empowering them.” But she cautions that she has learned to not give all of herself away, especially during the pandemic.

She was working 18-hour days and going home and trying to respond to the 200+ messages a day on social media she’d receive from people who reached out to her asking for help or information or just to vent to someone they saw in their living rooms every night. She continues, “So it’s about service, but you have to learn …to draw the line, because it cannot become your life. Because then you are consumed and then you have nothing else to give, because if you’re exhausted, how can you help? And so, like always, you have to take care of yourself first to be able to take care of people. And so that’s very profound. That’s the balance.”

Balance is something that comes up a lot in our conversation. She tells me that is what I should strive for in my pursuit of objectivity as a journalist, while acknowledging my bias. “We are always permeated in the story, whether we like it or not. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing either.”

This is what allows her to connect with people as a journalist. “If you totally remove yourself from it, then there is no human component in it. And it’s way harder to connect to the people that you’re trying to reach.”

She worked hard to get to where she has from her native Venezuela, and she’s seen a lot of colleagues burn out along the way. She has coworkers who show up to the same tragedies she does that consciously detach themselves from what they are reporting on. “They arrive to places and they’re super cool and they just want a sound bite, and they get out and that’s it. And the story doesn’t touch them, but they also don’t touch the story or have an impact in people’s lives. And to me I have always forced myself not to be that way, not to get closed.”

Not being closed has taken a toll on her emotional and physical health, though. “You pay a big price for it,” she tells me. She had a hormonal imbalance due to stress that led to a weight gain where she was viciously attacked on social media by viewers who noticed. She has been on antidepressants for depression and anxiety. She reflects on this period of her life, saying “My life was perfect. I have my dream job in Chicago. I have no real tangible problems. Why am I depressed? And somebody came to me and said, Érika, how many shootings have you covered this week?”

That was a particularly rough week where she had covered over 10. In one of the instances, she was even the one to deliver the tragic news to the family. “And then I realized, Oh my God. But of course, I’m depressed. I’m dealing with death all the time.”  She knew she had to change something if she was going to continue in this career.

“I always now go back to my meditation when something has affected me deeply. I can find back that center and the balance. I found that way late in my career. I would have embraced it in my twenties instead of my fifties, but so be it.” She tells me gracefully, “It arrives at the moment that it’s supposed to arrive.”

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