On trusting the process, listening and learning
Picking the community I’ve worked with the last 18 months was both a coincidence and a natural choice. I’ve worked with the Venezuelan community in NYC, a community of which I’m part. It wasn’t my first choice but, when the pandemic started, I know it was the right thing to do. Being a forced immigrant is difficult — and we should know about that: Venezuelans now make the second biggest refugee and immigrant crisis in the world.
I knew that I wanted to help my community. That was my why. I just need to find out how.
My first step was lurking. I spent hours on every Instagram or Facebook page that I could think of. Once I felt I knew enough, I started to have one on one conversations and generate discussions on social media. My first post asking about their necessities got dozens of replies and scared me. How could I tackle a project that big? How could I solve so many different problems? Then it hit me — I didn’t need to solve every problem, but I could make the process of solving them easier by providing verified and easy-to-access information.
That’s how my website, Venezolanos en NYC, was born. At first, I thought it would be a basic guide of bureaucratic processes in the city, but as I was getting more and more feedback I realize I was leaving a lot of stuff behind. Many recent immigrants don’t have any idea of which websites they can use to find a place to live or the paperwork they may need to rent it. Many don’t even know what’s a credit score. Other group is completely alone and doesn’t know where to meet people they can connect to.
I also did a Google Form to be able to reach more people and the feedback I got was almost entirely positive. Around 90 people responded. At this point of the project, I had almost all of the information they suggested considered! It was really useful to split the information into categories, prioritizing those that got more questions.
All that information made its way into my project thanks to listening to my community and doing journalism with them, not for them. The foundation stone of engagement journalism.
I created a Google Doc with all the information I could gather. I added to it weekly. By the end of the semester, it had around 50 pages. All that information was going to my website but I needed some other way to make it easier to process. That’s how the newsletter that accompanies the website was born. It consists of five main topics: education, health, government aid, ID services and culture. The idea is that every person that registers gets an email a week for five weeks, so they can have the information in their inbox and get back to it in case they need it — or go to the website and deepen it.
During all this process I’ve talked with many relevant actors for my community, ranging from immigration activists to influencers in their particular areas. They were incredibly helpful for getting more feedback and sharing the Google Form that formed a lot of the project. I’m hoping that, by forming those connections, when my project is ready to launch I’ll have their help spreading the word.
In the spirit of meeting people where they are, I’m planning on doing a “field trip” to all the Venezuelan restaurants in the city to talk to their owners, let them know what I’m doing and request permission to leave flyers with a QR code explaining my project.
Now, as graduation day approaches, I can’t help but think about how would this project look if I had missed just one of these steps that brought me here. I’m confident in what I’m doing. I can explain it in 30 seconds or I could spend a full hour talking about it, but that’s just because I spent months thinking about every aspect of this.
I learned what a lean canvas is and how having all the information spread in front of me helps me see where I’m lacking. I learned about design thinking and asked my classmates to brainstorm my project with me. I learned the best ways to generate income in the creator economy (and decided that donations were the way to go for me). I learned that being too involved can be your secret Coca-Cola recipe, but can also be a problem. Sometimes you’d need to take a step back a try to look at things with a fresher set of eyes.
During my time at Craig Newmark, I confirmed what my journalistic heart was telling me since my career started: it is not about reaching millions, it’s about reaching the right people. Going viral doesn’t matter as much as doing and good and impactful job.
I now also know that, even though I know all this, my project can fail. And maybe the next one too. Journalism is a tough industry. But every project will make me a better and more prepared journalist, one that is confident that the future of our profession is, to put it simply, in finding the best way to present the information so it reaches the right audience. That’s what I wanna do for the rest of my career.