Covering Coronavirus: Tips, best practices and programs

En espanol, IndyStar renews effort to serve Spanish-speaking audiences

Reporter Natalia Contreras had long wanted to regularly write and translate Spanish-language stories for The Indianapolis Star. After being reassigned to cover underserved communities during the coronavirus pandemic, Contreras pointed out the opportunity to serve the growing Spanish-speaking population.  Her editor, Daniela Franco Brown, “shared Natalia’s vision and passion for ensuring that our storytelling at the IndyStar serves all communities,” said Katrice Hardy, the paper’s executive editor. 

Last week, Contreras and Franco Brown began translating and editing stories to Spanish. While it’s not the paper’s first attempt, it’s the first time in recent years it has committed to publishing in Spanish, said Franco Brown. 

The effort, Franco Brown said in response to an email interview Monday, is to focus on telling everyday stories about Latinos and Hispanics living in Indianapolis.

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What motivated the decision to publish in both Spanish and English?

Franco Brown: (After Contreras expressed her interest) we had a meeting with other managers and producers on how best to start approaching this effort. We concluded that the first thing we should do would be to translate some utility content. Natalia started translating information on where to get food, as well as a call for people to submit info on those they’ve lost due to COVID-19. Up next: information on education for parents and unemployment.

Why is it important to provide Spanish-language content now?

Franco Brown: Because it’s important for everyone to get information, regardless of the language. I helped one of our reporters (who doesn’t speak Spanish) conduct some interviews with families in the Latino community. One dad, in Spanish, said “sometimes the information doesn’t reach everyone correctly, because we can’t all comprehend the same way because it’s not in our language.” And I feel that perfectly encompasses the driving force of the effort. It’s our job — as journalists — to provide everyone with the needed information to be safe during this pandemic.

Contreras: Representation matters. Yes, these are also tough times within our industry, and cuts are happening everywhere. But when leaders focus on hiring journalists of color and when leaders in newsrooms make sure we can represent our communities accurately and fairly, we can gain the public’s trust.

How do you decide which articles will be written in Spanish?

Franco Brown: As of this moment, it’s based off interactions with members of the community. Both Natalia and I had different interactions in which people expressed a need for information about food pantries and school closures. Moving forward, I will continue to work with Natalia on deciding what stories that she’s producing should go in Spanish. For example, her profile on the woman making masks for her neighbors was an obvious choice – and we ended up deciding that it made sense for Natalia to rewrite the lede for the Spanish version, as opposed to simply translating it.

What advice do you have for news leaders who feel their newsrooms don’t have the resources to report in more than one language?

Franco Brown: This is difficult because we have a clear understanding that this isn’t possible for all newsrooms. I’d discourage newsrooms of relying on a journalist who is bilingual to translate other journalists’ stories. We obviously understand that these aren’t normal times, as we’re dealing with a pandemic. I would encourage people to have conversations with stakeholders in the newsroom about how to approach this coverage, and perhaps your newsroom can hire a freelance translator, to have someone unbiased help out. We’re truly lucky in that Natalia and I are fluent, so we’re able to have a reporter and editor working in these. And if you’re passionate about this, which Natalia and I are, don’t be afraid to bring it up.