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February 2024

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What Makes News?

By MIKAYLA ORTEGA
When I started my journalism career, my anxiety worked overtime not knowing when and if I was going to miss the next biggest news story. I combated the worry by learning to draw from common themes: if it bleeds, it leads; and if a lot of people are wondering about it, it’s a story.


I was quick to learn the trade, mainly due to my empathic abilities, always perspective-taking, while ensuring my reporters and photographers had every single resource and advantage to succeed. I built relationships with people across the state of New Mexico and Colorado, ensuring that if a story happened in any community, I had leverage to cover the story with sources and insight other competing journalists didn’t have.


The number of heinous crimes, deaths, and victims I encountered numbed me out by my second year. I learned to compartmentalize by writing their names down and praying for them when I went home. I couldn’t get attached, I couldn’t have emotions, I had to keep going like a machine, processing the devastations of the human experience like clockwork.


Unfortunately, this grind of racing to have the best news stories can have its setbacks, like the inability to sleep, or the inability to stop working when you’re off the clock, or waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat from a nightmare that you missed the biggest story of your career.


Between 2017 and 2020, the rhetoric toward journalists added so much trauma to an already traumatic job. The phrase “fake news” ran rampant and pushed many journalists out of the industry.


Now to address the elephant in the room: is news fake? No. Credible mainstream outlets are not fake. People like me did the fact checking, verifying of information, and clearing information to be reported. There are journalistic standards media outlets must adhere to, and failure to do so can result in lawsuits.
Now here is the tricky part: can news be biased? Yes. It’s very possible for journalists to impose their bias in their coverage of any topic, oftentimes without even realizing they are doing so.


Overall, my step away from mainstream media was a step towards helping me get my emotional and mental health right again.


When this opportunity with Questa del Rio News came up, it felt like a dream. I would have the ability to lead a small but mighty newspaper to cover things that matter to my hometown community. Historically, small communities are not given mainstream coverage because they’re small. The fact that I can use what I learned in mainstream media for the benefit of a paper in the community where my family still resides, covering our history, telling our stories, giving our culture a place to live on through archives – it’s truly the biggest honor of my lifetime.


I know there has been concern and questions about me residing in Denver as I run the paper remotely, however, I am between Questa and Denver every other weekend, oftentimes working in Questa through the weekdays. I contribute to the local community, I support local fundraisers, I give back as much as I possibly can. I also own property in Questa and intend to get back home as soon as I am able. The beauty of news is that we rarely, if ever, live in the communities we cover, but we build and maintain our relationships to ensure we can tell your stories.


Please reach out if you have a story to cover. I love hearing pitches and I have been able to turn almost every single one into a story. If our families didn’t know each other or if they didn’t historically talk, it’s okay to start now. My interest in running Questa del Rio News is to build the community up, to help neighbors get to know one another more, to give a voice and a platform to a historically marginalized community.


I am always looking forward to hearing from you! Email me at editor@questanews.com.

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