Takeaways and feedback from our first conversation with communities in Chicago
After much anticipation, Covering Your Community successfully held our first community conversation about the media coverage of the Latino community in Chicago. For “Dissecting Coverage of Latino Communities,” on October 8 we met with folks in the predominantly Mexican neighborhood of Little Village.
About 35 people attended and shared their thoughts and feelings about Chicago journalism with our panelists, Laura N. Rodríguez Presa (@LAURA_N_ROD), Darcel Rockett (@DarcelTribune), and Will Lee (@MidnoirCowboy) of the Chicago Tribune, Evan F. Moore (@evanFmoore), formerly of the Chicago Sun-Times, Ismael Pérez (@_ismaperez) of the Sun-Times and Carlos Ballesteros (@ballesteros_312) of Injustice Watch.
Takeaways and lessons learned
While it was fulfilling to see members of the community engaging at the event, we recognize that we could have been better organized for the discussion and presentations of the coverage and the distinction between editorial board/columnists at a publication.
For future events, we need to be much more scripted and deliberate so the audience can better understand the relevance of what we’re sharing and the reason we are dissecting each report. There are topics we will revisit to ensure that the next event flows better and the conversation is rich.
Before the next event, we will further discuss our mission statement, revise the language and figure out how we can really drive home our purpose to the audience at the beginning of future events.
One of our major challenges at the event in Little Village was an interpretation from Spanish to English and vice versa as community members and journalists spoke. We did have people to interpret both languages, but it took a lot of time and often halted the flow of the discussion. Still, we recognize the importance of having the conversation in Spanish since we were specifically discussing the coverage of the Spanish-speaking immigrant community. More on this to come, and feedback is welcome if you have thoughts!
Time was also a challenge. We planned for the event to be an hour, give or take, but after our initial panelist presentations and the time spent on interpretation, we ended up going over because a lot of community members wanted to share thoughts and engage in conversation with the journalists. Since this was ultimately the main goal of these sessions, we allowed the event to run over. In the future, events might be scheduled for two hours, with the first hour being presentations and general discourse and then a social hour for breakout discussions.
We received a lot of comments, questions and concerns from community members who attended. Here are some of the main feedback points:
- There are, in fact, many stories written about Little Village that appear in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times and other publications, but often these stories are provided in English but not Spanish — the language of the community. If publications want to expand and grow their audience, publishing stories in the language relevant to the community is necessary.
- The op-ed process with publications is not transparent, so it’s disheartening for community members to submit something, hoping to build a relationship with the publication, and never hear back. There are not enough op-eds from “regular” people and too many from people who head professional organizations.
- Income inequality is one of the main hardships for people in communities like Little Village, sometimes because of exploitation of people who are not citizens, but it can be part of the underlying circumstances of violence.
- There might be a lack or ignorance of historical and institutional knowledge in journalism based on neglect and disinvestment of communities like Little Village.
- Many Little Village residents are tuned into news from Mexico and didn’t see it when the Chicago Tribune had a Spanish language publication, Hoy, and never see it in the main Tribune newspaper.
- For cultural reasons and probably because of this lack of coverage, a lot of discussions about issues in Mexico and other issues in the community take place over coffee at the kitchen table or on social media if Chicago publication coverage is not accessible. (Why should people pay for a digital subscription if coverage is not in their main language?) Comments on articles can be extremely overwhelming and polarizing.
- People in communities like Little Village can really help inform journalists about current and major issues but don’t feel like they have the power to do so.
Dolores Castañeda (who helped us organize the event) and her daughter, Yvette, were two of the most vocal people in the discussion and reached out to us afterward. We asked Dolores and Yvette to write their own reflections about how things went at the first event and will be posting that on the Covering your Community webpage as well. We think it’s a great first step in creating some great relationships and letting people communicate their own thoughts and concerns through a channel other than in-person sessions.
One concern we heard from community members is that they wondered where all these discussion points talked about at the event will end up and how to really make a sincere impact on how publications cover their communities. We assured people we are here and we are listening and that this event is just the first of many. And the next step is to take this feedback to our editors and newsroom leaders to use it to make our journalism stronger in service to our communities.