IJNet Journalist of the Month: Thalie Ponce

By: Muskan Bansal | 02/29/2024

When Ecuadorian journalist Thalie Ponce graduated high school at 16, two years ahead of schedule, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do next. 

It was only when she read Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, recommended by a professor during a pre-university course, that she decided to be a journalist. The nonfiction novel, which covers the murder of four people in Holcomb, Kansas, and the investigation that led to the capture, trial and execution of the accused, fascinated Ponce: “I was amazed by what [Capote] was doing in order to have this story. At that moment I felt [journalism] was the right choice for me.”

While pursuing her bachelor’s degree, Ponce was recommended by the dean of her faculty for an internship at the Ecuadorian news outlet, El Comercio. After graduating, she worked at Revista Vistazo and Insights, and at the age of 26 became a digital editor at Extra and Diario Expreso. She has also worked as a fixer for major international news organizations including the New York Times, NPR, NRK Norway and TV4 Sweden, among others.

After almost a decade in journalism, in 2021 Ponce started her own media outlet, Indómita, which uses a gender lens to tell stories about women’s lives, struggles and achievements.

I spoke with Ponce about her journey to becoming a media entrepreneur, what struggles she has faced along the way, and what inspired her to launch Indómita. 
 

What was your experience like as an editor at such a young age? 

When I started leading a team as digital editor for two newspapers I was super young. I was an outsider for this organization because I didn't work there before. I was also a woman. 

[Being a woman] was one of the biggest challenges for me, because people were questioning me all the time. There was a time when the director of this organization asked me to bring coffee for everyone in the room. But I was an editor and there were a lot of men in lower positions who could have been asked.  

Sometimes, the audiences and the people we interview also think they can say things about your body and your skills. I know a lot of cases when women go to do an interview and they receive comments like, "oh, you're so pretty." It's a professional environment and that shouldn't be happening. But we are objects in that kind of situation, just because we're women.
 

Are there any stories you’re particularly proud of?

There was [a story I wrote about] a case of femicide. A woman in my city, [who was] an activist at an organization that works in the prevention of gender-based violence, was herself killed by a former partner. The story called to me, in some way. 

When I published that piece, I decided I wanted to cover gender-based violence and create a media outlet to tell stories of women that are untold in Ecuadorian media.

 

Thaile reporting

What was the process of building a digital media outlet?

In 2019, I saw an opportunity post for the Emerging Media Leaders Program [at ICFJ]. Although it was the perfect moment, I had started my master's degree in digital journalism. I had to skip [my classes] a few months to go to New York when I was accepted, and it was great. When I came back I had to do the [master’s] thesis, which included creating a media project. It was the perfect opportunity to pursue the idea, the project of Indómita.

My colleague, Jessica [Zambrano Alvarado], and I started developing the idea, doing surveys and interviews. Around the same time, I got an email from ICFJ saying they were giving some grants to alumni. It was a $3,000 grant. With that funding, we launched Indómita. [Later] we got grants from IWMF, the Dart Center, and other small grants. 

Our website is free to read right now, but we are thinking about introducing a subscription plan. We have a very solid audience that demands information from us, and that's great because it's not that common in Ecuador to read huge articles with 30,000 characters. 
 

How did you end up becoming a fixer? 

I never knew I would be a fixer. I got a call from The New York Times, asking me to be a stringer with them in Ecuador. I got credited, and so many others started reaching out. 

It's difficult because I am also in the streets with journalists; we are in police operations, military operations, and interviewing people from neighborhoods that are very dangerous. My experience with the New York Times has been great because my immediate bosses have been women, so they can look at things differently and from a gender lens.

 

Thaile as a fixer

How has IJNet helped you, and how have you been involved with ICFJ's Crisis Reporting Forum?

I think IJNet is the most organized and updated website to look for opportunities. I open this website every Monday to start my week because I'm a nerd. 

[For example], in 2021 I had some changes in my menstrual cycle when I got my first [COVID-19 vaccine] shot. I went on Twitter and there were a lot of women that replied to my tweet saying this happened to them, as well. I saw an opportunity on IJNet’s page about this.

IWMF program focused on immunization and vaccines for Latin America. I thought this was a great opportunity to know more, and how to cover vaccines and how they work. After I was selected, the fellowship had two phases. The first was online courses and in the second we pitched our ideas [for stories].  

Another opportunity I saw on IJNet was the United Nations’ RAF Fellowship. I was in the Galápagos working on a story when I had an interview with a U.N. team and then I got selected. It was a very good experience because it was the first time that I [worked with] fellows from every part of the world. I had, for example, a colleague from India, another one from the Philippines, from Cameroon, from Jamaica and Brazil.

In January, this year, I [spoke] with Daniel Dieb [from the ICFJ Portuguese-language Crisis Reporting Forum] about the current crisis in Ecuador. We talked about how narco-trafficking and the prison crisis in my country are linked. I also mentioned how it is important to cover this topic from a human rights perspective, and how it is important for journalists in other countries to get context to understand and tell responsibly what is happening here. 
 

What are some struggles you go through as an entrepreneur?

We are currently working on a very big project funded by the Pulitzer Center. It’s about jails and covering them from a gender angle. Ecuador is going through a tough prison crisis, narcotraffic and security crisis. Recently, our website was hacked but we did recover.

I think what we do matters, otherwise why would anyone pay attention to [our website]? We published an investigation on kids being killed because of the narcotraffic and the same day we got hacked. We are also doing the prison story, so I think it has something to do with it. 

 

Photos courtesy of Thalie Ponce.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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