Journal reader engagement focusing on underrepresented communities - Albuquerque Journal

Journal reader engagement focusing on underrepresented communities

I moved to Albuquerque from Colorado last November, marking the third time in my 53 years that I’ve called the Land of Enchantment home.

What drew me back was the opportunity to extend the Journal’s reach – though the prospect of easy access to green chile, posole and sopaipillas certainly didn’t hurt in deciding to come “home.”

I joined the newspaper’s editorial staff to – among other things – meet with and write about people and organizations not often seen in Journal stories.

Actually, the Journal has already taken steps to expand its coverage of “underrepresented communities” with no help from me. Regarding the Journal’s Feb 8. edition, a longtime reader texted, “I was really pleased to see two positive stories about immigrants on the Journal’s front page yesterday. I can’t remember when that’s happened before. …”

The goal of the Journal’s reader engagement initiative is to shed light on the lives of New Mexicans who too often are overlooked in the essential daily grind of covering “hard” news, which is important, but often generated by the “system” – government, law enforcement, courts, etc.

In 2021, the Journal underwent a rigorous self-examination of how it covers and delivers the news by participating in a program sponsored by the American Press Institute. Here’s where the importance of attracting new and diverse audiences comes into play. Traditional newspaper readers skew older and white. The only way to truly serve the community is to bring new voices and new perspectives to what we do – to grow our audience.

The media “ecosystem” has evolved dramatically and furiously in the internet age. When I was a kid, we all lived in an information desert. We would have to visit the “oases” of newspapers, radio and TV to find out was going on. That desert landscape is now a lush jungle of information that can invade our homes. How often have you had to “opt out” of getting information you don’t find useful?

Most of what I’ve done since I arrived is reach out to people to ask for honest feedback about what the Journal does well and what it can do better.

Conversations with young, professional Hispanics in Albuquerque revealed a lot about their relationship with the news. Many don’t have a specific media diet. Instead they forage on information that lands in their vicinity through social media feeds, aware there are algorithms that dictate what they see. Even so, they expressed a desire for more “positive” news and easily consumable information that would come to them without having to actually scroll through a daily edition.

Even non-English-speakers rely on Journal reporting. Information about immigrants and Spanish-speaking communities is shared on social media where implications are deciphered through online discussions.

As mentioned, I’ve lived in New Mexico before. The first time was in the early ’70s. My brother Tomás was born here in Albuquerque and his arrival home from St. Joseph Hospital is one of my earliest memories.

My nomadic parents – an “Anglo” father and “Chicana” mother who met in the Peace Corps – moved a lot. The state’s multicultural heritage had everything to do with why my parents finally settled down in New Mexico. After years of living in rural Missouri, my Hispanic mother yearned to be near people who looked like her and spoke Spanish. She didn’t want to return to the oppressive heat of the Texas Gulf Coast where she and I were born.

We returned to New Mexico in 1981 when I was 13. I went to middle school and high school in Farmington, and then college in Las Cruces. When I graduated from NMSU with a journalism degree in 1991, my first newspaper job was in Española. So, I may not be a native, but I’m definitely a product of New Mexico, for better or worse.

My work is just getting started, and I need to have many more conversations with many more groups. Consider this an invitation to reach out to me if you’d like to learn more about the Journal’s reader engagement initiative. Understand I’m simply a point person on this project. As I talk to people and identify coverage opportunities, some stories may fall within the beats of my Journal newsroom colleagues. Collectively, we are working on finding and presenting the stories of all New Mexicans.

Next week, I’ll introduce you to New Mexico families – already struggling to overcome pandemic-induced hardships – experiencing whiplash over a tax credit program aimed at reducing childhood poverty.

Assistant Editorial Page Editor/Reader Engagement Director Andy Smith can be reached at (505) 823-3813, asmith@abqjournal.com.

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