UCI alumnus Mariah Castañeda visited the “Reporting Literary Journalism” virtual course on October 21 by literary journalism professor Amy DePaul.
Castañeda is the social media manager for Voto Latino, an organization that educates and empowers Latinx voters. She is also the political editor of LA Taco, an independent journalism site based in Los Angeles.
She shared that her goal is to signal and educate ways of empowering people and institutions of power, while making her job easier for everyone.
“I do my business for busy people… I do my business for people who just want to know a little more,” Castañeda, whose content ranges from voting guides to one Twitter account with 112,000 subscribers as of Nov. 8, said.
Referring to his LA Taco article on arrests made against women and gender non-conforming people during the May and June protests in LA, Castañeda told students that obtaining consent from interviewees empowers them and makes them feel more comfortable.
Castañeda shared another interview strategy, one where she interviewed as many different people as possible on the same bus. It was important, Castañeda said, because they could corroborate each other.
“You basically have five people here saying one corroborating thing and then you have the police saying a whole different thing,” Castañeda explained. “And that’s how you hold power accountable.”
Castañeda also noted that the reporting can be traumatic, sharing that she suffered secondary trauma while interviewing people for this article.
“It touched me,” Castañeda said, referring to the accounts she heard about abuse of power by the LA police. “I was horrified. I haven’t left my house for, like, a month.
Another way to hold power to account, according to Castañeda, is to be frank and engage in dialogue with the community. For her, that includes the following social media for Voto Latino.
Castañeda explained that the majority of his Latinx audience for Voto Latino is sensitive to the policies of current US President Donald Trump, so the social media content that is created shouldn’t be depressing. Plus, she tries to shed some light on topics like enumeration and voting so that people feel excited about interacting with the content.
Castañeda shared examples with the students, including a graphic that read “Dump Trump! In bold letters and a big, comedic trash can, and a social media post explaining how to register to vote in a local taco truck in LA.
“You want to make it sound like it’s from someone from LA,” Castañeda said.
Castañeda ended her conversation with the students by describing her latest collaborative project, a podcast on the gentrification of Los Angeles caused by the corruption of former LA city councilor José Luis Huizar.
One of the podcast’s initial ideas was to focus on Huizar’s misconduct. Castañeda disagreed with the plan and suggested instead focusing on people displaced from their homes.
“[Huizar] is the show… the real story is about the community, ”Castañeda said.
Chloe Low is a contributing writer. She can be contacted at [email protected].