Keila Torres Ocasio: Ready for whatever the job has in store
The comment came a lot quicker than I thought it would.
Someone, anonymously of course, commented on the online story about my promotion to managing editor of the Connecticut Post that I was a “token” hire, you know, because of the color of my skin.
I expected it.
A Women’s Media Center’s report titled “The Status of Women in the U.S. Media 2019” points out that a recent American Society of News Editors’ survey found people of color made up only 22.6 percent of the overall workforce in the print and online-only newsrooms that responded.
Women, meanwhile, comprised less than half, 41.7 percent, of those newsrooms.
A Columbia Journalism Review report published last year also found that 73 percent of the editors at 135 of the country’s biggest English-language newspapers are men and nine in 10 are white.
People are not used to seeing women, and certainly not Puerto Rican women, leading a newspaper.
I would have taken the online commenter’s post personally, but that person obviously does not know me.
See, the comments I’ve seen from those who remember my days reporting on Bridgeport and surrounding communities were very different.
They know I not only believe in what one person on Twitter calls “good old journalism” — accurate reporting that uncovers corruption, highlights a community’s strengths and provides information readers want and need — but that I worked hard every day when I was a reporter and columnist to do just that.
But that doesn’t mean my ethnicity, gender, age and, most especially, where I grew up don’t matter. They absolutely do. And that’s not a bad thing.
Throughout my career, my background and experiences have informed my reporting and the conversations I think are important in the course of that reporting and the writing of a story.
As a “minority” I have had different experiences — both good and bad — than my white colleagues. The same can be said for my experiences as a woman and even as a mother.
Differences in staffers’ backgrounds, whether in ethnicity, gender or really anything else, allow for a great exchange of opinions and points of view that mirror the kinds of conversations happening in the diverse communities we cover.
Growing up in Bridgeport, I remember the surprise I felt when I realized that not every school population or workplace has a mix of ethnic backgrounds as diverse as we did.
Most importantly to the managing editor role, my time in the Bridgeport public schools, my experiences growing up on Bridgeport’s lower East Side, my time as a reporter at the Post and my knowledge of our suburban neighbors, like Trumbull and Stratford, will be assets in this role.
When reporter Brian Lockhart and I have a conversation about elections in Bridgeport, he doesn’t have to explain to me the history of elections here.
(Fun fact: I was on maternity leave with my first son during the 2010 election when Bridgeport ran out of ballots and I seriously considered running out to City Hall to help once my son was asleep.)
I also know the difference between the East Side and the East End. Bridgeporters know how important that is.
And when Trumbull Times writer Donald Eng talks about the intensely adversarial relationship between Democratic and Republican leaders in that town (or the Keep Trumbull Real vs. Trumbull Talks Facebook groups), I know exactly what he’s talking about.
We have a great team in Bridgeport and at the weekly newspapers we work alongside.
And they are all just as passionate about producing great journalism every day, not just filling a paper with content or getting hits on the web at any cost. Do we mess up sometimes? Name a paper that doesn’t. But day to day they strive to be accurate and bring you the news fast and first.
They will continue to do so — with my assistance and guidance.
But this column is not meant to explain my qualifications to those who believe I am a “token” hire.
It’s for those who may have honestly wondered if I was.
But mostly for those kids in my hometown who get beaten down by the idea that when you’re poor or a minority or a city kid (or all three!) you don’t get to be whatever you want.
You will encounter people who judge you based on your background or skin color or gender — really all of us do, minority or not.
But those people don’t know your story. And they don’t get to decide who you become or what you achieve. You do.
Following your dreams will be hard and you may have to carve your own path, but it’s absolutely possible.
Eight years ago, I wrote a column for the Post in which I argued children should always be told anything is possible, or in Spanish, todo es posible.
I not only still believe that. I know it to be true. I started my dream job last week, marking the start of my latest challenge.
And I’m ready.
Keila Torres Ocasio is managing editor of the Connecticut Post.