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HomeSpotlight on Ethnic MediaReporting Fellowship Invests in Community Journalists to Empower Civic Engagement

Reporting Fellowship Invests in Community Journalists to Empower Civic Engagement

Ed. Note: A new reporting fellowship aims to provide community and ethnic media journalists with the tools they need to bring greater accountability to local elected officials while fostering greater civic engagement among their audiences. The Altavoz Lab fellowship is part of Palabra, launched in 2019 by the National Association of Hispanic Journalists to support independent journalists nationwide. “When you see your local community outlet asking questions for you, you start to understand that as a member of this society you are also entitled to ask questions and demand things from those in power,” says Valeria Fernández, a veteran of Spanish language media and director of the Altavoz fellowship. She spoke with EMS Contributing Editor Peter Schurmann.

Can you tell us about the Altavoz Lab fellowship you’ve launched? What is it and who is it intended for?

Altavoz Lab is an initiative inspired by my work as a community reporter and by what I’ve been doing with Palabra, supporting freelancers and independent journalists. Altavoz helps community and ethnic media journalists do reporting that holds elected officials accountable, that looks at local or national policies and how they impact local communities and people’s lives. We believe that if community journalists are empowered, if we invest in them, we are at the same time investing in their communities, in their audiences, and we are strengthening their civic engagement, their participation. When you see your local community outlet asking questions for you, you start to understand that as a member of this society you are also entitled to ask questions and demand things from those in power.

The Altavoz fellowship is being run in conjunction with Palabra. Can you tell us more about that project?

Palabra is a publication created by the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) in 2019. We cover issues impacting the Latino community but also intersectional issues, like housing and the rise in hate crimes, for example, impacting other communities. Palabra was created to support freelancers and those looking for support to transition into full time positions. Our main goal is to support our storytellers. Altavoz is under Palabra and is an initiative supported by the Emerson Collective. The idea is to expand the Palabra model to work with community and ethnic media journalists serving local communities.

What can participants expect once they’ve been accepted into the fellowship?

The fellowship provides stipends of $2000 for participating reporters to work on their projects. It also provides scholarships for reporters to attend the NAHJ/NABJ (National Association of Hispanic Journalists/National Association of Black Journalists) convention in August. Fellows will be paired with one of eight Altavoz mentors who all share in common a commitment to supporting other journalists. We’ll have our first cohort meeting in late April to give fellows a chance to meet, share ideas, and create connections. The fellowship will run through the end of November. When we finish, fellows will leave with new ideas, new friends, and a new support network of reporters and mentors.

This is an election year, with issues like voting rights and political representation front and center. How does this fellowship fit into that context?

Accountability… we want to encourage stories about accountability. Just today someone called me from Texas about voter disenfranchisement. And I told her that for me, the issue is voter subversion, and about a movement to subvert the results of our elections. And there are people running for office, for positions to manage elections, who could have connections to this movement. So it would be good to do some kind of exposé or accountability reporting on some of these people. In this way you are providing a service to the community, by enlightening them about certain candidates while at the same time informing them about issues that affect them directly. And there are other issues. I mean, increasingly our entire election process has become a reporting topic in its own right. Especially when we look at issues of accessibility, and what officials are or are not doing to make sure information reaches communities. The point of the fellowship is to support our reporters as they ask these tough questions and actually hold officials accountable for their actions.

You’ve worked in Spanish-language media for much of your career. What are some of the challenges and opportunities you see now for that sector?

There are reporters who have been savvy about how to connect with communities in new ways. I have a colleague here in Arizona who started a WhatsApp group called Conecta Az. She started the group during the pandemic to combat misinformation in the very same place where that misinformation was spreading, WhatsApp. She’s been running the group for two years, and thanks to her efforts that information gets spread and magnified, it gets shared. Community and ethnic media reporters are an untapped treasure; they know their communities and they maintain a trust with their audiences that has more or less vanished within the mainstream press. They have been there all along and are finding new ways to serve their communities.

You were, until recently, part of the Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State. What are you seeing in terms of up and coming journalists?

I saw a lot of talent, but it can be hard for students from marginalized communities. That being said, everything you put in you see flourish. They just evolve and grow, but you have to invest in them. It goes back to the vision of Altavoz, that idea of investing in journalists..

Where and how can interested reporters apply for the fellowship?

They can go directly to the application and for those who have an editor, we have a simple form they can use, a quick and easy template that allows editors — I know how busy they are — to simply plug in the name of the outlet, the description of the story and their signature. The application deadline is April 4 and I am available if anyone want to reach out with questions.

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