The power of thinking small
It’s time we stop measuring the impact of journalism in clicks, stats, and dollars and start looking through the lens of community, stories, and service. This I learned through my JSK Stanford Fellowship and Conecta Arizona.
How do we measure impact? For some, it’s a matter of numbers, clicks, statistics and dollars. For others, perhaps more idealistic and passionate like me, it is as subjective as love. But how can you know how much you love someone? How do you guess how much they like you? On what scale do you measure happiness and grief? How do you put a number to a feeling or an emotion? It may be that I’m not a numbers person; what I really like is the stories people tell, the ones that inspire others. Even the ones they hide.
My profession is focused on telling other people’s stories. A year ago I began writing a new chapter in my own story. It ‘s called Conecta Arizona.
Fifteen years ago, I came to the United States with my Mexican identity. I was in love and naive and I wanted to conquer the world. In many ways, I’m still the same. For many years I had to prove to this country that I deserved to be here, that I deserved the opportunity to live, work and raise kids here. Sometimes I even had to convince myself. And there were times when, out of necessity, I had to shrink to fit in places where I never fit. Not anymore.
In 2020, when the world stopped and my work as a freelance journalist dried up, I rediscovered the path to becoming the journalist that I always dreamt of and craved. I let go of what I thought I wanted and needed… and everything changed.
I founded Conecta Arizona as an experiment: a news-you-can-use service to connect Spanish-speakers along the Arizona-Mexico border and throughout the state with trustworthy information about the novel coronavirus on Whatsapp and in local newspapers. I started with a great desire to accompany my community during the isolation. I didn’t want to change the world, but I did want to save it from the pandemic of misinformation. I didn’t know how, but I knew what I wanted. I started with a WhatsApp group that grew until it reached the limit imposed by the social media company, and then expanded to social networks, distribution lists and a radio program.
Conecta Arizona has been magic since the beginning, when it was just a dream in my head, and it had no name. Feet in 2 Worlds and the Listening Post Collective believed in this journalistic experiment. With a small investment of money and a large investment of time and talent, we embraced the project, we made it our own, we nurtured it and we crossed our fingers that someone else would adopt it as their own. And it happened: I made it to Stanford!
I got into one of the most prestigious journalism fellowship programs in the world with my experiment in community journalism. I didn’t have great numbers to show, but I invited them to dream with me. And the JSK Community Impact Fellowship mentors at Stanford got on board!
How did I get in? I was just being real and I told them about my project with the same passion that I talk about life and love. I’m not new to journalism. This is not the first time that I’ve led a journalistic project, but it is the first time that I’ve created an initiative from the ground up, entirely of my own design. I have been working as a journalist in Phoenix for more than 10 years, but I have been writing and reporting for more than 15.
They believed in me and Conecta Arizona. They bet on a Latina, an immigrant with red lipstick, a hand-embroidered Mexican blouse, and a strong accent. They hugged me, just as I am: extroverted, happy, noisy and annoyingly positive, with my extreme love for caffeine, my big smile and all the crazy ideas that come to me nonstop. I fit in.
I came to a place where they listen to me, support me, pamper me, and inspire me. And nothing has been the same since. It was as if I had been a seed and thrown into fertile ground … and I flourished.
On May 11th, Conecta Arizona celebrates its first anniversary. We have accomplished small and great things: We have had 265 Horas del Cafecito — online chats with our audience while we have coffee — and 50 experts have joined us to answer questions. At the cafecitos we talk about local businesses, mental health and many other topics. We have guests and participants from both sides of the US-Mexico border, and together we are building bridges while others still insist on building walls.
In our group there are 257 people from 7 different countries, and hundreds more subscribe to our news distribution lists. We reach more than 65,000 homes with our weekly column in Prensa Arizona, the state largest Spanish-language newspaper. In addition, there are our weekly segments on the Enlace newscast on a local Phoenix radio station, our collaborations with the Organización Editorial Mexicana, a large Mexican newspaper group, and dozens of appearances in community forums, journalism panels, and media interviews. We also produce our own weekly community radio show, La Hora del Cafecito en la Radio, which is live on-air in Phoenix and on the Web around the world.
In one year, we have answered 1,214 questions from members of our community, plus the 511 we answered during the intense election coverage in 2020. We have debunked 262 conspiracy theories, myths, and fake news from social media.
We connected with our roots and traditions by celebrating Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) with calaveritas (poems that embody the wit and sense of humor Mexicans are known for) and Día de los Niños (Children’s Day) by sharing our childhood dreams.
All this for 257 people? A colleague asked me. I smiled at him. All that for one! I replied. And yes! We are building a model to strengthen local journalism that inspires others to do the same in their own communities.
Conecta Arizona is not a mass media outlet, nor do we want to be. We are here to bring dialogue to journalism, to have difficult conversations, to be questioned, so that our own community has the confidence to ask and know that there will be answers. We want them to use us and share our information, and to know that someone really supports them. Within this community, local and human journalism, we want to tell their stories with their voices, accents, and nuances. We will change narratives together.
Thanks to the JSK Community Impact Fellowship, today I know where I am going and how I am going to get there. The rest I will learn along the way and I will not do it alone. Today I know that Conecta Arizona is not mine, it is ours; yes, because the moment we stop referring to our community as them everything changes.
How is Conecta Arizona’s impact measured? With the heart. In the testimonials of the members of our groups, in our heated discussions about politics or gender, in the brotherhood between borders, in the more intense or peaceful cafecitos, in the strong community that we have created, in the news in Spanish, in the change of the narrative about Latinos and immigration, with the inspiration to write about ourselves with the full awareness that we are the story.
Long live Conecta Arizona!