Returning to la isla del encanto

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By Mc Nelly Torres

In mid-September, 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated my native island of Puerto Rico. I finally managed to travel to the island in November, when I spent two weeks cooperating with local journalists on behalf of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists with the support of the Knight and Ford foundations.

In order to help tell their stories, we delivered satellite phones and wifi hubs to local journalists working under dire conditions while covering the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Communications had become a daily struggle and these journalists needed to communicate in order to perform their jobs.

As many Americans living outside the island, I watched on TV and online as Hurricane Maria ripped through the small southeast town of Yabucoa, just miles away from my hometowns of Patillas and Arroyo.

The nearly Category 5 hurricane enveloped the whole island like a giant blanket and spent 30 hours precipitating chaos and massive destruction.

Never before had the people of Puerto Rico experienced so much fury in one storm. The damage to property and communications was unprecedented and the blackout that came before, during and after has been a nightmare for all Puerto Ricans living in the island but also for the millions of Puerto Ricans in the U.S. mainland as well.

We didn’t know if our friends and relatives survived the catastrophe. We didn’t know if they had food and water. There was no electricity or communications whatsoever. The blackout hindered social media too.

I could no longer see posts from my friends in social media about ordinary things like daily thoughts or pictures and special moments like birthdays. All their Facebook profiles were frozen in time just before the storm – some of them managed to post that electricity was out before the storm arrived.

I had no news from my cousins and my mother. And this went on for days and weeks. I was afraid for the whole island.

Last summer, I had made a four-day visit to the island. After landing, my husband and I  drove straight from San Juan to the east and south coasts, where we stayed in Guardarraya. This vibrant part of the island, known for good surfing, is a beach community in Patillas, where most of my family is from.

When I returned in November, I found myself in a different place. Instead of an island, known for its beauty, wonderful people and tasty food, I found a desolate landscape devastated by Mother Nature as it had never been before.

All that remained of the little boutique hotel we had stayed in Guardarraya, Caribe Beach Playa Resort, was the bare concrete structure; most of its windows had been ripped out. The locals tell me Maria had brought a 20-foot storm surge that had swept everything in its fury, including most of the hotel.

People are still traumatized by their experience. And each day that passes without electricity is a reminder of what took place in September.

Life will never be the same.

This post is to share pictures and short videos I took to show how the people of Puerto Rico survived the worst hurricane on record to hit the island and how they have been  neglected by their government.

And how, under difficult circumstances, amid struggles and challenges, even as electrical power has been slowly restored throughout the island, they get up every day to clean up, find solutions and survive. They are not waiting for a savior, even though they are justified in feeling like second-class citizens.

As I traveled the island, spoke to people and documented what I saw, I felt as if I was visiting a foreign country. How can a place so beautiful look so different now? Nature can do that.

I saw hundreds of light poles knocked down by the storm and wires everywhere on the side of the road and on top of houses. Trees and property flattened.

I saw sadness.

I saw resilience in people who were and still are trying to make the best of a bad situation. I saw despair in the face of the unknown as thousands of people left the island looking for a remedy they can’t find at home.

I also saw strength in those left behind as they repeat the new mantra “Puerto Rico Se Levanta,” an assertion for themselves and for outsiders that there’s no choice but to look forward to a brighter future.

Those are my people. That’s Puerto Rico. Still and always my enchanted island.

Mi isla del encanto.

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Chronicles of a News Entrepreneur Part II

From an Idea to Reality: Producing Investigative Journalism in Florida

Last week, the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting became the first nonprofit watchdog in the Sunshine state to receive a $100,000 grant from the Oklahoma City-based Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

FCIR is the nation’s first nonprofit, digital and bilingual investigative journalism organization.

News of our grant circulated rapidly through industry blogs and social media.

But FCIR’s success in fundraising didn’t happen overnight. In fact, we have worked for more than a year to grow FCIR from its seed as a simple idea to a viable journalism organization.

That idea was to meet a growing demand in Florida by producing investigative journalism about one of the nation’s most populous and diverse states. To accomplish this, we’d use the latest technologies and storytelling techniques to connect with diverse audiences throughout the state.

As we brainstormed and consulted with colleagues across the country, we determined that we needed to be different from other nonprofit news organizations.

Why? Because Florida serves as the gateway to Latin America and the Caribbean and its communities are among the most complex and diverse. FCIR needed to appreciate that complexity and reflect that diversity. For that reason, we made an early commitment to produce journalism in both English and Spanish.

Among our initial tasks was to recruit a strong, diverse board of directors and an advisory committee. Each of our board members brings a unique skill set, which includes journalism, management, nonprofit administration, digital media and law. As we grow, so will our board and advisory committee.

In addition to an accomplished and committed board of directors, FCIR needed a home. The International Media Center, a nonprofit affiliated with Florida International University’s school of journalism and mass communication, system offered us that.

IMC has an impressive, 20-year history of training journalists in Latin America and the Caribbean. It is a perfect marriage. FCIR’s partnership with IMC will allow us to create a substantive internship program that will help train the next generation of investigative reporters in Florida.

Yet FCIR will never lose sight of its mission to be a content provider of investigative journalism. For that reason, FCIR has established a network of ethnic and traditional media outlets that will publish FCIR’s journalism and at times collaborate on projects.

By collaborating with English- and Spanish-language media, FCIR can reach Florida’s diverse audiences on all available platforms– online, broadcast, radio, print and mobile.

What’s more, FCIR’s partnership with the First Amendment Foundation in Tallahassee will foster collaboration with citizen watchdogs around the state. We believe that engaging the public is crucial to make this new model of investigative journalism successful.

Although FCIR began as a simple idea, it has grown into a public- and foundation-supported nonprofit organization with an important mission — to work in Florida’s public interest by exposing corruption, waste and miscarriages of justice.

Note: FCIR is seeking watchdog projects from Florida journalists to fund this year. Deadline is Sept. 30. Proposals can be e-mail to watchdogfund@fcir.org.

Mc Nelly Torres is the associate director and reporter of the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting and a board member of the Investigative Reporters and Editors organization. Torres has been a member of NAHJ since 1998. This blog item was also published by NAHJ Sept. 13.

Stop plagiarism on the Web

The Web is like the Wild Wild West: what you find is what you get. And because of that factor anybody can steal a journalist’s work and distribute as his/hers own. I don’t know about you but that’s unethical and plain wrong.

So how can you stop it or at least be aware of it before you begin propagating something that has been plagiarized by someone else?

Rebecca Aguilar, a friend and board member with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, might have a solution about this. And she blogged about this issue for the Society of Professional Journalists this week. Rebecca has found a good Web tool that targets plagiarism.

I think there should be a law against plagiarism, but that’s just me.  I’m a journalist.

Thanks Rebecca for sharing this with us. To read the blog post go here.