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How listening informed La Estrella de Tucsón’s reporting during COVID-19 pandemic

From December to June, La Estrella’s online readership grew by more than 500%.

When COVID-19 infection rates began rising in southern Arizona in early 2020, it became clear that predominantly Hispanic — often Spanish-speaking — communities were experiencing higher rates of infection than white communities. At the same time, there were fewer resources available in Spanish.

Liliana López Ruelas is the community engagement editor at La Estrella de Tucsón, the sister paper to the Arizona Daily Star. As one of the American Press Institute’s 2019-20 community listening fellows, she had been working to develop new ways to engage Spanish-speaking readers.

The onset of the pandemic forced her to pivot away from some of that work but also made clear the need to consistently and effectively get Spanish-language information to residents.

As she shares in this Q&A from API, Liliana prioritized translating Daily Star stories into Spanish, adapting them to meet the information needs of Latinos in Tucson, and turning to platforms like WhatsApp to connect with potential readers in their preferred digital spaces.

This process was informed by deep listening. In fall of 2019, the newsroom conducted a survey to better understand information needs and habits. The majority of its audiences come from northern Mexico, and they’d indicated that Facebook and WhatsApp were the two most popular social networking platforms for them.

As Liliana shared, “We created a WhatsApp channel as a way for readers to contact us and to bring them breaking news and weekly summaries of local and exclusive content.”

The efforts paid off: From December 2019 to June 2020, the online readership for La Estrella grew by more than 500 percent.