Manny Ramos is a Report for America corps member who writes for the Chicago Sun-Times, with a focus on Chicago’s south and west sides. He answered a few questions about his work as a local journalist for the latest edition of the Report Local newsletter.
1) You’re one of several RFA corps members who is reporting in their hometown. While many journalists wind up moving to far-flung locales to take jobs, what challenges or opportunities have you encountered while reporting in the community where you grew up?
The opportunities I’ve had to report in my hometown have been immense. Unlike starting off in a city or town I am unfamiliar with, the advantage of having an understanding of neighborhoods and community leaders has only helped my reporting. I’ve been able to connect with community leaders and because they know I am a Chicago native, they feel more comfortable opening up to me. If there were any challenges, it would be not being able to look at things from an unadulterated perspective. Because I know my community and its challenges well, taking a fresh or new look on topics can be difficult.
2) Your work at the Sun-Times focuses on covering Chicago’s west and south sides. What is your approach to building trust with residents to tell their stories?
My approach on covering Chicago’s South and West Sides and building trust there is just like with any beat coverage journalists have. If someone is covering city government, it is expected they spend time getting to know legislators and attending many meetings. It is the same covering these neighborhoods, though for decades a major newspaper in my city just didn’t do it. So that’s my approach. I call sources sometimes just to talk. I visit meetings even if I am not writing anything about it. I am just being present. The more you are seen, the more they put your face to your byline, the more trust you earn.
3) What’s your favorite part about being a local reporter? Any specific encounters stand out to you as moments where you knew your presence and coverage made a difference?
My favorite part about being a local reporter is talking with folks. Being able to tell the stories of people who otherwise wouldn’t. But also being an example for young people of color that there is room for you in media and you can help control the narrative of how your community is depicted.
4) What has your experience with RFA taught you about the role journalism can play as a public service?
My experience with RFA has taught me that journalism at its root is fundamental to democracy in the United States of America. With attacks on journalists coming for the highest of offices and having a direct impact on the safety of journalists working at the most local of places is a sign of that threat. Regardless, RFA has shown reintroducing young journalists in places where news coverage is often ignored commits it to upholding journalism. I very much appreciate that level of commitment from RFA.
5) What was your main motivation for applying to Report for America, and what advice would you have to anyone who is considering applying?
My main motivation for applying to Report for America was my belief in the importance of community journalism. I was glad to learn an organization was willing to invest in journalists at the local level and move away from generating more journalism jobs along coastal cities. My advice for anyone who is considering applying is to wholly invest yourself in Report for America’s mission. The work you produce out of doing that would mean so much more.