University of Missouri-Columbia students Sharon Quintana Ortiz, Cristal Sanchez, Erik Galicia, and Lauren Hubbard, pictured Feb. 27, 2023 in Columbia. (Clara Bates/Missouri Independent)
Four journalism students at the University of Missouri-Columbia have launched a project to provide bilingual news through social media platforms to mid-Missouri’s Latino population.
“There is so little Hispanic or Latino news,” said Lauren Hubbard, president of MU’s National Association of Hispanic Journalists chapter and one of the project’s organizers. “But also there’s so little news that’s in Spanish for them to understand and consume.”
“Because of that, they might not know what’s going on in the communities that they’re living in.”
Their project, called De Veras, aims to increase the accessibility of information about immigration legal services, education and health to Missouri’s Latino community, among other services.
They entered the project in the 2023 Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Student Innovation Competition — where this year’s focus is on addressing a local need through service journalism — and are now finalists.
The students — Erik Galicia, Lauren Hubbard, Cristal Sanchez, and Sharon Quintana Ortiz — have traveled to three mid-Missouri towns with significant Latino populations to spread the word about the project and learn about residents’ needs.
In Milan, a small town roughly 100 miles north of Columbia, 42% of the population is Hispanic, as of the 2020 census.
Meatpacking plants came to the region in the mid-nineties, which aggressively recruited workers from Mexico and from towns along the US-Mexico border. Many stayed.
Sanchez, who experienced “culture shock” moving from the more-diverse Chicago to Columbia for college, was surprised to see the grocery stores and restaurants owned by Latinos “at every corner” in Milan.
“You do not hear about this in Missouri,” Sanchez said, “at least from the media I’ve consumed in Missouri.”
The students said the residents they spoke to were largely receptive to their project, though not all had had positive experiences with journalists.
Sanchez said the owner of a small grocery store in Milan told them journalists had visited and “promised to write stories about issues that were going on in the community, but they didn’t show up afterwards.”
Based on what they heard from community members, they designed “phase one” of their project to build trust in the communities, the students said.
And they believe they can do that by starting off with social media posts to help connect the community with social services. The students hope eventually to write longer stories about the communities and issues confronting them.
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“It’s not only that we have to provide service journalism for this community,” Sanchez said, “but it’s also that we have to build relationships with them, we have to keep showing up.”
The students hope to provide information on free health care clinics, for instance — after hearing from Latinos having difficulty navigating the insurance system — along with information for newly-arrived immigrants on how to access legal services and understand their rights.
The Missouri Independent will serve as the media partner for the students’ new venture, reposting information on its Instagram. It will also work with De Veras on in-depth reporting projects in the future.
Their end goal is to offer bilingual news content to media outlets throughout the state.
The group was inspired by a statewide bilingual newspaper called Adelante that Mizzou students and Columbia community members formed in 2000 and that folded about six years later. They spoke with Adelante’s former editor, Tracy Barnett, before launching De Veras.
Regardless of how they fare in the competition, the group is committed to working with their fellow National Association of Hispanic Journalists members at Mizzou and the university to keep the project going.
Galicia, vice president of the NAHJ chapter, hopes the project is a first step to “recuperate those relationships” between journalists and Latino communities in the state.
“I don’t know if we’re doing enough as journalists to build those bridges with communities,” Galicia said.
“For me, that’s what this is. Going to these communities and showing our faces, and asking people: What is it that you need? What can we do for you?”
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