There is nothing universal about Nuestro Estado. If you are not from the Latinx community living in South Carolina, it’s possible the content won’t resonate with you. But that’s just it. It’s not like any other Spanish outlet that directly translates what’s being said in English media. Here we find a publication that invites us to reshape our understanding of journalism and how to go about it. Fernando Soto, Nuestro Estado CEO, has created something new in an uncharted territory, one full of stories waiting to be heard.
Generally, we think that journalism is all about speaking truth to power and providing the public with reliable information. In a way, it’s about having informed citizens that can push for a more just and democratic society. But for Fernando Soto, that isn’t enough. “We need to rethink the idea of service, the service that we provide to our communities,” he says. This is not just Soto’s opinion, it’s his lived experience.
Historically, Nuestro Estado has used its platform as a means of direct support for the Latinx community. Be it by sharing evacuation and emergency services information via Facebook Live during hurricane Dorian or by working with local health authorities to help Latinxs get registered for the COVID-19 vaccine, Soto’s team is constantly on the lookout for new ways to help locals access the information and services they need and deserve. Reflecting upon his learnings since the launch in 2019, Soto shares the following tips for anyone looking to serve their community:
‘Know your community and ask questions’
In order to know their community, publications must look beyond Google Analytics. Get to know your readers by actually talking to them and asking them what they feel is important. Understand that there are differences within your target audience, and it’s important to take them into account. “More and more we see Latinxs that want to know about infrastructure and education rather than migration,” says Soto.
Knowing your audience also means understanding the cultural, social, economical and political context they live in. This understanding will help you choose the right topics and the best way to approach them. It was by doing this work, being on the ground in rural and metropolitan areas, that Soto realized that he had to do digestible articles (300 words) and a good amount of videos to inform his community properly.
‘Think about the people whose identities you don’t share’
“I often ask myself, what if I was a Black, undocumented transgender woman? How would this article affect me?” shares Soto. For him, this is just a standard question that helps him cultivate a mindframe that is always looking to be aware of realities that are not being represented. After doing that, it’s easier to “find the common ground” for your audience.
‘Share resilient stories’
Especially today, it’s difficult to be informed and not feel like “the world is crumbling,” Soto tells us. While selecting topics and angles to cover, know that you are creating a narrative to navigate reality. It’s not about being all optimistic and blinded to what we don’t feel like seeing, but rather about sharing a unique perspective of things. Of course, Nuestro Estado covered how the pandemic was affecting the Latinx community, but they also shared how none of the local Latinx businesses closed during that period. Find those resiliency stories.
‘You don’t have to publish every day, nor every story’
Especially if you are a small team, don’t think you have to publish every single day. “You can’t cover every car chase or fire,” shares Soto. Do less, but do it right. After a while, as your team grows, you can start doing more pieces. But then you have to ask yourself: Is this story meaningful to the community? Does it provide a service? For example, Fernando and his team have tried to stay away from crime stories, in certain circumstances.
‘Recognize your lived experiences’
Objectivity is part of the aura of journalism. However, as Soto puts it, “journalists of color have thoughts and feelings, and the things we cover affect us.” That’s why it’s fundamental to “practice a little grace with yourself,” and, above all, to let your lived experiences inform your work.
‘Be nimble and agile with your business model’
Ideally, your media outlet will change over time, so you will need to gradually adjust your business model. Grants and funds mean more resources, but they also mean more work. “Accept them, but do so it in a way that will let you get where you want go,” says Soto. Find a way to make that extra work pivot in the direction that best serves your project. Don’t just let the chips fall where they may, know what you want and understand the real motivation behind it.
‘Ask for help and surround yourself with likeminded people’
You don’t have to do it alone. It’s important to “surround yourself with people that are supportive and likeminded. People that will push you out of your comfort zone and challenge you. Your audience will respect you for it,” says Soto.
If you are a journalist, rely on the one thing you know how to do, ask questions and connect with people. “A lot of times we think we have to do everything ourselves, but for a business process to structure in a way that is not overwhelming, you have to understand you can’t do it alone.” Therefore, it’s important to create a collaborative environment.
Be honest with your audience. Let them know why you are doing what you are doing. Your intentions have to be transparent. When you explain to people that you want to do something and do it well, they appreciate it. It’s a good thing for people to understand where you and coming from. By doing so, you will start creating a culture within your community. You will create “content by us and for us,” Soto shares.
By taking these steps, Nuestro Estado has created a narrative that evolves and responds to the interests and needs of its community — with the numbers to prove it. In just three years, Nuestro Estado is the Spanish media outlet with the biggest social media following in the region (with around 13,000 followers), even above radio stations and projects that Soto has been following for the past ten years, he assured.
The work that Nuestro Estado is doing offers a small glimpse into what the future of journalism may look like — a type of journalism that is equitable, responsible and reciprocal, informing the public while keeping their needs in mind. A journalism that understands that in a world with an increasing tendency to homogenize culture, diversity is precious.