I asked a panel about what factors they take into account when publishing Spanish content because that language varies between regions. Image from INN video.
I asked a panel about what factors they take into account when publishing Spanish content because that language varies between regions. Image from INN video.

As BenitoLink’s co-editor and content manager, I joined over 400 journalists, funders and civic innovators in Washington, D.C., for a two-day conference on June 8 hosted by the Institute for Nonprofit News (INN) at George Washington University.

Among the topics that were explored during the 24 sessions were strategies for sustainable funding, collaborations, protecting reporters and growing an audience. 

Yamil Velez, assistant professor at Columbia University, presented from his study in a session on how Spanish-language news impacts civic engagement. He found that “community-centered news outlets increase political efficacy, increase local news knowledge, and fill an important niche within existing information environments.”

Participants said they viewed commercial news media as biased, he added, and that it lacked objectivity while community news was viewed as impartial and easy to understand.

Velez said participants who continue to consume local news still remained informed about state and national news. 

“If you asked them about all of these national news events, they were just as knowledgeable,” Velez said. “So there wasn’t this substitution process. [Local news was] helping compliment people’s knowledge of what was going on at the national level with locally oriented information.”

MLK50 editor and publisher Wendi Thomas spoke about her news organization’s informational resource that advises the community on their rights when dealing with media. 

She said while they published it with some “trepidation,” it helped level the field among journalists and sources that do not often speak directly with the media. 

“These aren’t spokespeople,” Thomas said. “They’re just regular people that you might meet at a demonstration or protest that you are going up to with your notebook and your pen asking them questions.”

The MLK50 community advisory encourages people to ask journalists where the story will be published, what the angle or focus of the story is, and who else is being interviewed. It also explains what it means to be “on the record” and “on background,” and that sources can change their mind about being included in the article up until the story is published. 

“It was just important for us to do that and it was another way we built trust with our community,” Thomas said. 

At a session focused on how local news can bind communities, author and former editor James Fallows said journalism has always been in a “crisis” that takes different forms. 

“Sometimes it’s economics, sometimes it’s cultural, sometimes it’ political,” Fallows said. “We are always talking in this business about how to operate as a business, how we can keep the news industry going and different models of work.” 

He added that journalists have had to always balance how to attract readership while providing information the community needs and deal with “suspicion” from the public.

“We have debates that take different forms on how to use the power we have to connect people, to find some way so that the nation, the state, the region, the community can go up rather than go down,” Fallows said. “Where information can empower and connect and motivate rather than divide and depress and repel.” 

The Institute for Nonprofit News was founded in 2009 to help rebuild local newsrooms, providing ethical guidelines and using a nonprofit model. BenitoLink took part in INN’s “NewsMatch” in 2017 when there were only 30 nonprofit newsroom members. Now there are over 450.

Right now YOU CAN HELP support your local news. BenitoLink is currently hosting our Summer FUNdraiser and you can take advantage of an outstanding matching opportunity. Your donation can be doubled thanks to a $10,000 match offered by a local couple who cares about BenitoLink and the news it provides the whole community. 

Noe Magaña is a BenitoLink reporter. He also experiments with videography and photography. He is a San Benito High School graduate with a bachelor’s in journalism from San Jose State and a Liberal Arts...