UCI Literary Journalism Alumnus Visits Current LJ Students Over Zoom

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Photo by Chloe Low

UCI alumnus Mariah Castañeda visited literary journalism lecturer Amy DePaul’s virtual “Reporting Literary Journalism” class on Oct. 21. During the class, Castañeda talked to students about her emphasis on creating accessible, community focused content as a local news reporter and social media curator.  

Castañeda is the social media manager for Voto Latino, an organization that educates and empowers Latinx voters. She is also the political Editor-at-Large for L.A. Taco, an independent journalism site based in Los Angeles.

She shared that her goal is to report and educate ways that hold people and institutions of power accountable, while also making her work easy for anyone to consume. 

“I make my stuff for busy folks … I make my stuff for people that just want to know a little bit more,” Castañeda, whose content ranges from voting guides to a Twitter account with 112,000 followers as of Nov. 8, said. 

When referring to her L.A. Taco piece on arrests made on women and gender non-conforming people during the May and June LA protests, Castañeda told students that getting consent from people being interviewed gives power to them and allows them to feel more comfortable.

Castañeda shared another interviewing strategy, one where she interviewed as many different people as she could on the same bus. This was important, Castañeda stated, because they could corroborate with each other.

“You have essentially five folks here saying one thing that corroborates each other, and then you have the police saying a completely other thing,” Castañeda explained. “And that’s how you hold power accountable.”

Castañeda also noted that reporting can be traumatizing, sharing that she experienced second hand trauma from interviewing people for that article. 

“It did impact me,” Castañeda said, referring to the accounts she heard about the power-based abuse done by the LA police. “I was horrified. I didn’t leave my house for, like, a month.”

Another way to hold power accountable, according to Castañeda, is to be candid and conversational with the community. For her, this includes the social media following for Voto Latino.

Castañeda explained that the majority of her Latinx audience for Voto Latino is sensitive to current U.S. President Donald Trump’s policies, so the social media content that is created should not be depressing. Additionally, she tries to make light of subjects such as taking the census and voting so people feel excited to interact with the content.

Castañeda shared examples with students, including a graphic that said “Dump Trump!” in bright letters and a comically large trash can, and a social media post detailing how to register to vote at a local taco truck in LA. 

“You want to make it sound like it’s coming from a person in LA,” Castañeda said.

Castañeda ended her conversation with students by describing her latest collaborative project, a podcast about the gentrification of Los Angeles caused by corruption from former LA City Councilman José Luis Huizar. 

One of the initial ideas for the podcast was to focus on Huizar’s misconduct. Castañeda disagreed with the plan, and instead suggested shifting the focus to people who were displaced from their homes.

“[Huizar] is the spectacle … the real story is about the community,” Castañeda said.

Chloe Low is a Contributing Writer. She can be reached at cklow@uci.edu.