‘La Voz de Chatham’ put on hold

With Victoria Johnson’s departure, Spanish-language project seeks new reporter, funding

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The News + Record’s “La Voz de Chatham” project, which for two years has provided Spanish-language news content in both print and digital platforms, is officially on hold, Publisher Bill Horner III has announced.

Lead Reporter Victoria Johnson, whose award-winning coverage has led to national recognition for the project, has left the newspaper to pursue a career in the legal field.

“Victoria was our original lead staff member for this project, and her reporting and writing skills and ability to provide compelling coverage in both English and Spanish is what made ‘La Voz’ work,” Horner said. “We’ve launched a search for a bilingual reporter to continue La Voz. So until we find the right person to continue doing the work Victoria started, we’re going to pause the project.”

La Voz de Chatham — “the voice of Chatham” in Spanish — was originally funded with a grant from the Facebook Journalism Project in the spring of 2020. Initially designed to be a four-month reporting project to cover the impact of COVID-19 on Chatham County — with stories in English in the print edition of the News + Record, in English and Spanish on the newspaper’s website and additional coverage in Spanish on social media — La Voz was expanded and continued past that four-month funding budget. It eventually included quarterly Spanish-language print editions, as well; those Spanish-language newspapers were mailed to 2,500 Spanish-speaking homes in Chatham County, and another 2,500 were distributed by hand through various local nonprofits and agencies.

The impact was significant. Editor & Publisher magazine, the American Press Institute, the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative and UNC’s Center for Innovation & Sustainability in Local Media were just a few of the publications and organizations to feature the La Voz project.

“La Voz de Chatham is a remarkable resource and source of information about local news for the Latinx community of Chatham County,” said Ilana Dubester, the executive director of El Vínculo Hispano/The Hispanic Liaison. “La Voz created a space for our community to be reflected in the social fabric of our county through personal stories, opinion pieces, events, and news from local organizations such as the Hispanic Liaison. La Voz was also very accessible through a vibrant Facebook page and free printed editions that were mailed to Spanish-speaking households. I am proud of the Chatham News + Record for creating a more inclusive local media. I am hopeful that they will soon find someone to carry forth Victoria Johnson’s excellent work. She was an engaged and compassionate journalist, and a great writer! We will miss her.”

Horner said the News + Record would apply for grant funding and seek local funding support in order to keep it sustainable. Two major newspaper grant opportunities open in July, he said, including one from Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities.

“We’re also considering crowd-funding this reporting project,” he said. “La Voz has provided meaningful coverage of Chatham’s Spanish-speaking population, and we’re very optimistic that we’ll find grants and other support to keep it going. But even that’s not going to happen until we find the right person to do the work.”

Johnson, a UNC graduate who lived in Greensboro, has taken a position at an immigration law firm in Raleigh and ultimately will consider getting a law degree.

“We hated to see Victoria go, but she’s part of our family and this new move will suit her careers goals and interests,” Horner said.

“It’s been such an honor and a privilege to lead La Voz and serve Chatham County’s Spanish-speaking community,” Johnson said. “I wish the best of luck to the next reporter who takes over La Voz and can’t wait to see how he or she grows the project.”

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