IJE Participant Takes Ideas of Community Journalism Back to her Newsroom

Oct 82008

As co-editor of the City Section at El Universal, Evangelina was part of the 2007 International Center for Journalists’ International Journalism Exchange (IJE) program, which allowed her to work at the Rocky Mountain Newspaper in Denver, Colorado. She spent time observing the paper’s operations closely and gaining hands-on knowledge on how the newsroom is managed and how they handle community-driven stories.

“My encounter with the Rocky Mountain News spurred a new bulk of ideas that I had been already developing in Mexico this year”, Evangelina said to ICFJ. “As I collaborated with the reporters working on stories, I learned a lot from them; overall I learned to listen to people more closely.”

When she returned to her job at El Universal in Mexico, Evangelina noticed that an important news event had already been taking place in Mexico City, giving her the opportunity to try out her newfound ideas. The Tren Suburbano, an ongoing railway construction project, was making news in the city because it was dividing districts, “[Imagine] if a border line was constructed and people’s commuting became more difficult”.

Evangelina and her team went to districts in both Mexico State and Mexico City and talked to local citizens to find out their thoughts; they presented a wide-ranging report in which they showed the pros and cons of the much needed public transportation system.

They found no opposition from residents to the development of the railway project. However, the larger concern lay in the project’s poor planning, which directly aggravated locals.

“After our report we saw positive reaction even from the businessmen who owned the franchise,” Evangelina said. “We did our first test of closely listening to people and putting in local people’s faces on the paper”.

During IJE, Evangelina sought to better understand how editors handled the daily editorial pressure while producing special reporting each week.

She noticed that news events can also turn into fascinating stories. For instance, as the worldwide economic crisis and the Dow Jones Index were filling newspaper’s front pages, Evangelina noted that this type of coverage was not solving reader’s immediate needs.

“In Mexico people like to buy their products at old-fashioned markets, so our job was to see how the economic crisis hit the next-door lady who only has US$10 to buy groceries. In addition, the price of tomato in Mexico becomes the financial thermometer of a weak economy… We put ordinary faces on the newspaper, not the finance secretary’s or the businessman’s who lost in the market”, Evangelina recollected.

For her strategy in dealing with the editorial agenda she relies on El Universal Web site, which she says is among the most visited nationally. Another event she witnessed at the Rocky Mountain News led to initiate an interactive forum about an accident that happened 33 years ago in Mexico. There were more than 30,000 visits. “We just made the forum appealing enough. We presented the project with readers’ input, and we prepared a large report for the newspaper and even larger for the Web site, where we posted audio-galleries, audio, and people’s statements.”

Currently Evangelina wants to contribute to botth printed and digital platforms as special events editor.

There are two things that still register closely with the people she has interviewed and that make her believe that “printed media will survive if it produces special stories for readers and if it remains close to its audience by giving them high-quality, accurate, appealing journalism in both platforms.”

For future projects, she is planning to run a blog dedicated to Mexican city women and to rekindle a socially-minded commitment shared by El Universal.

Modern Mexican society faces overwhelming security issues as a consequence of the ongoing drug activity that caused 4,000 deaths this a year. To tackle this issue, social sectors have come to an agreement to promote and instill a culture of laws and prevention —a commitment shared El Universal.

“I am committed to delivering a campaign I have called ‘Más vale prevenir que… (It is better to prevent than…). We have interviewed drug-recovered youngsters, former convicted citizens and women who worked for kidnappers. To promote the culture of laws, we are interviewing successful young people who made it to the top without having wealthy families or financial resources, and we will show these exceptional lives in the newspaper.”

She defines community journalism as a path to reclaim a piece of history, and that —she claims—- is what fascinates people.

The International Center for Journalists’ International Journalism Exchange brings ten or more newspaper or online editors with at least five years’ professional experience from the developing world to the U.S. in October and November every year.