[Excerpt of news article by Lau Guzmán, Record-Journal, April 7, 2023]
MERIDEN — Last year’s Puerto Rican festival was hot and humid. There were storms on the horizon, temperatures hovered around 95 degrees and the day ended with a thunderstorm. Despite the heat, I spent the day with a team from the Record-Journal that had gathered under a tent and a table to collect surveys.
Folks came up to our table a little shyly. The team smiled and gave their kids beach balls, multi-colored pencils and totes. As a Latina and a bilingual reporter at the Latino Communities Reporting Lab, I was able to speak with their parents in Spanish and explain we were trying to find out what our community wanted to read, see, or hear about in the news.
The 117 responses that we collected that day were part of a larger survey funded by a grant from the Google News Initiative to help us better understand the needs of our audience. The whole survey ran from April 2022 through January 2023 and collected 2,043 responses – 867 in English and 1,176 in Spanish.
The festival was not the first or last time I joined the team collecting surveys. For a few months of my life, it seemed that I saw reminders to take the survey everywhere. I saw it as a widget on the stories, on my social media feed, as an email attachment, in my text messages, and even at C-Town Supermarkets in Meriden. I would chat with Project Coordinator Julio Panduro on his way to collect surveys and commiserate about the fickle Connecticut weather.
The survey took about five minutes to complete and collected information about demographics, news consumption, coverage areas and news trust. However, my favorite part was always the open-ended responses at the end.
We asked respondents what they wanted to read and if they had any feedback for the Lab. Responses ranged from the serious to the funny to the heartwarming. As we went over responses during our meetings, I was grateful to have the community submit story ideas.
Someone sent in: “Too many Americans don’t have knowledge about the status [of] history, even after 124 years. Why isn’t this taught in school? Orville H. Platt was involved in acquiring PR from Spain after the Spanish American war. Meriden named a high school after him. Why isn’t this connection known locally?”
I thought this was a very valid question, so I tried to figure it out. Three archive visits later, I wrote a long and specific story about Meriden’s famously long-dead senator. I have no way of knowing if the person who sent in that suggestion read my story, but I hope they did. Mostly, though, I hope the person who suggested it knows that the Lab was listening to them.
Other write-in responses centered on increasing international news from home countries. As a result, I started compiling aggregate stories every week, finding out what was happening in Latin America and the Caribbean.
DataHaven, a nonprofit organization we partnered with to collect and analyze the data, published the final report last month. We found out that the top-ranking topics for respondents were health, education, music/arts/culture, local events and sports (see the graphic above, thanks DataHaven!)
In response to health, my colleague and the Record-Journal’s Health Equity Reporter C.V. Villalonga-Vivoni often focused on stories that impacted Latino communities. My personal favorite was a story that ran in January about Community Health Worker Leonarda Ortiz from the Community Health Center Inc. in Meriden. Because health is so important to the community, our section will also run stories about topics like COVID-19, diabetes, local clinics, and nutrition.
In response to education, our newspaper covers local Board of Education meetings and local schools regularly. A recent favorite is a charming story that my colleague and Meriden reporter Mike Gagne wrote about a production of Aladdin Jr. at Edison Middle School in Meriden.
However, since 39% of our survey respondents were parents of a child under 18, my colleague and fellow Lab staff member Crystal Elescano makes a point of covering scholarship events and opportunities that will be relevant to community members with kids.
Writing about music/arts/culture has been a challenge, especially since a lot of the arts in our area are based in Hartford and New Haven. This is certainly an area of growth. Even though our Lab has run stories about local musicians, festivals and artists, we can always do better.
In response to the local events, my colleague David Matos began to compile a weekly list of upcoming Latino events that the community might be interested in. We also make a point to cover events hosted by local organizations and nonprofits, especially those geared towards Latinos.
However, just because the survey is over, it doesn’t mean that the Lab stopped listening to the community. We are still listening to regular feedback from our 2023 Community Advisory Board members. Moreover, we are always happy to hear from community members.