CQS 25th Anniversary Tribute: Virginia Isaad

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Virginia Isaad (Summer 2013)
Freelance journalist
Los Angeles, Calif.

I started my freelance career with the same goals I’d had when I started studying journalism – to write about stories I believed were important and to raise awareness of issues that don’t get the coverage they should.

I never set out to write about celebrities or Hollywood, though there’s nothing wrong with that; I read those stories regularly. Instead, I wanted to explore topics I wanted to know more about, like immigration, women’s rights and the struggles of Generation Y.

Not all publications responded to my ideas. Some said outright that while my proposed story – like one on Mexican immigrants who come to America only for citizenship, then return to Mexico – was important, they didn’t believe it would get enough views to be worth it.

But one online publication, Ryot, did exactly what I aimed to do, and it empowered readers by providing information on ways for them to help at the end of each story.

In the wake of Caitlyn Jenner’s interview with Diane Sawyer of ABC News and the media’s focus on the transgender community, I reached out to Ryot about doing a series on trans millennials. With Ryot’s mission being to inform and inspire readers to be active, I believed it would be the perfect platform to showcase the diverse group of trans individuals.

Ryot was totally on board. I had the freedom to choose who and what I wrote about, and the series became my most personal and meaningful project, especially because of the significance of the topic and the chance to shine a spotlight on such varied individuals.

I found each of the four individuals I planned to feature by reaching out to friends, social media and even GoFundMe. I featured a Buddhist trans man, the first out trans man in the military, a Latina trans activist and a black trans woman.

The interviews weren’t always easy for either of us. I was still familiarizing myself with the proper vocabulary and making sure to approach the interview from an angle that was nuanced but respectful. The sources were hesitant to talk to the media, unsure of how their story would be portrayed, when the little that was written about them focused more on superficial elements.

I found Sgt. Shane Ortega after someone on Twitter messaged me about another story I’d written to say he was disappointed that the list of trans people I created didn’t include a trans man of color. Ortega saw the thread and reached out to me. I’m glad he did because his portrait became the most-read story in the series.

Through this experience – and afterward, when I began focusing on undocumented millennials –
I realized just how many stories were out there that no one was writing about. As a consumer you don’t know the stories a publication is not including. But being on the other side of the news, I became even more passionate about my goals.

All that changed, however, when my editors left Ryot. I later found out that AOL had bought the publication and that it was now Huffington Post Ryot, a site that places virtual reality front and center. That style of journalism had always been integral to Ryot but was not its main focus.
The updated version of the site did not archive my published stories. They were gone. This was a personal loss for me, but it seemed to represent a larger trend, where video technology is becoming the most popular platform for news consumption.

But while the medium changes, the content has yet to evolve at the same rate, it seems. I haven’t found a publication that’s given me the same opportunities that Ryot did, and that’s mainly because the competition for clicks has only intensified.

That said, there are still journalists and publications that don’t measure a story’s worth by its viral potential, that won’t publish certain content only if it’s pegged to Hispanic Heritage Month or Black History Month.

I hope that our stories, and our newsrooms, continue to reflect the diversity in America. I’m happy that my stint at Ryot allowed me to write about these stories that aren’t talked about but should be known.

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