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How collaborating helped two Idaho publishers engage Latino audiences

In a post on American Press Institute, Stephanie Castellano details how two journalists turned to a number of creative ways to reach students and families—before and during the coronavirus pandemic.

How do you reach and engage an audience traditionally outside of your newsroom’s reach?

Idaho journalists Sami Edge and Nicole Foy started by listening.

As part of her API 2019-20 Community Listening Fellowship, Idaho Education News reporter Edge wanted to hold  listening sessions with Latino students and their families to understand their thoughts on the state’s education system and then build a reporting series based on what she heard. To do so, she paired up with Foy, who covers Latino affairs for the Idaho Statesman.

In a post on American Press Institute, Stephanie Castellano detailed how the two turned to a number of creative ways to reach students and families. This became particularly challenging—and necessary—as the COVID-19 pandemic made in-person meetings impossible starting in the spring of 2020.

Foy shared: “We hosted multiple in-person listening events in six communities before COVID-19 halted our plans for more, then pivoted to outreach via text, using Reach and GroundSource. We posted flyers advertising the number at restaurants and stores around southwest Idaho and broadcast it across social media.

“In the first year or so we published six stories; hosted four Facebook Live Q&A sessions for Spanish-speaking parents about online learning, school board meetings and the coronavirus; launched a Spanish-language text service for parents with questions about school reopening; and hosted a panel discussion between the governor and Latino students. This was the first time any news outlet in Idaho had focused extensively on Latino students, yet we’ve still barely scratched the surface. We plan to continue publishing stories on the topic.”

And the two learned many lessons along the way.

As Edge said: “Most reporters probably do their best to make sure the stories they write genuinely reflect the community they’re writing about. But reporters hardly ever have time to start a new beat by listening, with no agenda other than to understand. Taking the time to start a new beat with humility, and to show everyday people that you value their expertise, helps reporters build positive relationships and learn things they never would have thought to ask about.”

(Note: This post was written by Ashley Alvarado, who served as the adviser to Edge during her fellowship.)