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You need to be a bit crazy to be a journalist.
Melissa Segura, investigative reporter for BuzzFeed, certainly thinks so.
Segura is the keynote speaker for the upcoming 2022 Dixon Awards, presented each year to advocates of government transparency by the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government.
Following previous keynote speakers that include Marty Baron and Bob Woodward – both of whom were played by award-winning actors in movie versions of their stories – is somewhat daunting for Segura. But her journalism career is already full of achievements to back her up.
In the seven years she’s been at BuzzFeed, she has been investigating former Chicago police detective Reynaldo Guevara – who was accused of framing dozens of people who were sent to prison – which has led to the exoneration and release of more than 30 people. Many of them spent decades in prison for crimes they didn’t commit, with one of them serving 32 years behind bars before being released earlier this year.
“This community that I wrote about was actually terrorized by somebody who grew up with them, he was from this community,” Segura said.
As a Santa Fe native, Segura said she feels her deep connection to New Mexico and its people makes her a good candidate to speak about government transparency in the state.
“I was born and raised here. I’m one of those longtime, deeply-rooted New Mexicans, and I love this land, I love our people, I love the community,” Segura said.
Segura says that her job, which consists of reporting on class, race and social issues, intersects all the time with government transparency.
“I’ve always really loved documents,” Segura said. “I’ve always loved trying to understand the entirety of the story.”
The focus of her career has become making sure that people on the margins are heard by elevating voices that are not normally heard.
The issues she often reports on usually happen in communities that are poor, mostly populated by non-English speakers and have very low education rates, she says.
Segura said she has encountered plenty of obstruction while reporting on these issues, acknowledging the “blue wall of silence” as a real problem.
“It’s up to us that government records are the starting point and not the end point,” Segura said. “The starting point being that we have to talk to people, confirm statements and reconcile timelines, that’s the real work.”
Gatekeepers often like to make people believe the process is complicated when it’s actually not, Segura said.
“A lot of the families with whom I work can and do feel very much intimidated by the process and don’t even know where to start,” Segura said. “That’s where organizations like NMFOG are vital to our democracy and being a resource to communities who can feel ostracized from the system.”