By Catherine Komp, NC Local Editor
When Paola Jaramillo and Walter Gómez launched Enlace Latino NC in 2018, they had extensive resumes in journalism and a $75,000 grant from the NC Local News Lab Fund. They also had a strong mission: to produce public service journalism in Spanish and encourage their audience to be more involved in the social, political and economic changes that benefit their community.
The early days probably sound familiar to a lot of local news founders: Jaramillo took a low PT salary, and she and Gómez still worked for other news outlets to make ends meet. They also had a lot to learn about the business side of journalism.
“When we started, we didn’t have any idea what would happen in the future,” Jaramillo told NC Local. “When we started, we said ‘OK, maybe we’ll try this,’ but we didn’t have any idea what would happen one year later.”
This month, Enlace Latino NC marks their fifth anniversary — and Jaramillo credits their partners, staff, contractors, funders, supporters and audience for their continued growth.
“I’m very excited, very happy, very satisfied with everything that we’ve had the opportunity to build together because this is impossible to make alone,” said Jaramillo. “It’s incredible for me, for all our team to think about how Enlace has grown in these five years and everything that we’ve learned, all the people who’ve stayed with us to help us to grow and make it step by step.”
Step by step has been a successful pathway for Enlace Latino NC. They started by doing a lot of community listening with Latino families, which helped them figure out what kinds of news and information their audience wanted and how to get it to them.
“They told us the best way to get them information was through a website, Facebook and definitely text message and WhatsApp,” said Jaramillo. “The members of the community use WhatsApp for everything: sending voice memos, sending videos, sending information links, because it’s free and it’s easy to share.”
Jaramillo says each day, they use WhatsApp to share the basics: the forecast, exchange rates, and any essential news of the day. But a bigger service they provide is answering the community’s everyday questions, from where to get a free mammogram and help paying for prescriptions to how to open a bank account and get a driver’s license.
“We have one person who answers every question, not a machine, a person,” said Jaramillo. “And the questions help us to write news articles because if the community is asking these questions, it’s because the community needs this information.”
The community listening sessions also led to the launch of other news products, including El Jornalero, a seasonal newsletter for rural agricultural workers and Prepárate NC, a guide for hurricane preparedness and recovery specifically for all the different scenarios faced by immigrants in the state.
“It’s different when you are an American citizen, when you are a green card holder, when you have Temporary Protected Status, when you have a visa, when you have an undocumented status — the resources are different,” said Jaramillo.
Enlace Latino has also focused on bringing their audience news about politics and civic engagement, dedicating one reporter to covering the General Assembly and providing extensive coverage during elections.
“It’s not only about candidates, it’s about the electoral process because the electoral process is very tricky. It’s a long process, it’s difficult to understand,” said Jaramillo. “We try to provide information that helps you in your daily life during the electoral process: what is the voting schedule? What are the hours? What are the locations? What documents do I need for Voter ID?”
They’re also reaching the growing Latino population in North Carolina through a monthly podcast. Recent episodes explore the impact of COVID on farm workers, entrepreneurs and living with Long COVID; earlier this year, the podcast explored their partnership with The Bureau of Investigative Journalism and Mother Jones on the story: “A North Carolina Farmer Was Accused of Abusing His Workers. Then Big Tobacco Backed His Election.”
Enlace Latino’s innovative work caught the attention of the American Journalism Project, which awarded them a $1 million grant last January. Jaramillo says they’re using the funding to bolster the business side of the organization, including bringing on Angelica Santibanez-Mendez as Director of Development. She was an outreach nurse for farmworkers with Manos Unidas of Black River Health Services and eventually took on a leadership role there. She’s also an “Investing in Leaders of Color” fellow and launched her own non-profit, Saludas Sin Fronteras, to serve the Hispanic/Latino, immigrant, and refugee populations in Atkinson, NC.
“Over the years, I have been a dedicated follower of Enlace Latino and their insightful reporting. Their stories have always struck a chord with me, providing me with a deeper understanding of the diverse communities I have worked with,” said Santibanez-Mendez. “I am particularly grateful for their commitment to biculturalism and bilingualism, which has enabled me to connect with their work more personally.”
Santibanez-Mendez says she’s focusing on strengthening relationships with stakeholders and funders, developing a funding pipeline for the organization and growing their donor program and corporate sponsorships.
In addition to Director of Development, Jaramillo says they’ll be hiring two other full-time positions in the coming months: one focusing on operations, the other on audience. She says the AJP grant has made a big difference for them, but it’s not just about the money.
“It’s about connection. It’s about relationships. It’s about coaches for different topics,” said Jaramillo.
As she reflects on five years of providing news and information to North Carolina’s Spanish-speaking communities, Jaramillo offered a few of the most important lessons they’ve learned:
✅ It’s impossible to make anything alone. You need to create connections.
✅ Take things one step at a time. Don’t try to make everything at once. Try to focus on only one product at a time.
✅ Something that works for you, won’t necessarily work for me. It depends on the audience, what your news organization decides to focus on. Test and try, every time.
✅ If you decide you want to make something, create a plan and make it. Don’t wait six months.
✅ Think about why you want to do something. For example, if you want to launch a new newsletter, why? What is the reason? What is the audience that you want to reach? What do you hope for the newsletter? (And don’t try to launch 3 newsletters at the same time!)
✅ Work with other media! You will learn a lot.
✅ Spend time listening to your community. Go into the streets, go to your neighbor’s house, talk to people. Stop focusing on how many clicks you have, and make space for community listening.
✅ And the most important thing is passion. When you have passion in everything you make, this is the difference.
Enlace Latino’s Co-founder Walter Gómez and Political Reporter Claudia Rivera Cotto are hosting a North Carolina table talk at LION’s Southeast News Sustainability Meetup & LION Awards Ceremony and Dinner, October 3rd and 4th in Durham. Development Director Angelica Santibanez-Mendez will be co-presenting a workshop on “Demystifying the Revenue Funnel.” She says they’ll delve into the intricacies of the revenue funnel, dissecting the various stages involved in generating revenue, from lead generation to conversion and retention. They’ll also share some real-world examples to aid participants in comprehending how to apply these concepts to their businesses.
Registration for the LION event ends September 15th.