Columbia faculty promotes diversity through class, blog

By BenitaZepeda

Once a month, The Chronicle profiles people on campus who are doing interesting or important things.

We’re always watching for faculty, staff and students with a story to tell. Here’s someone you should know.

Teresa Puente, 42, is an assistant professor and director of News Reporting and Writing in Columbia’s Journalism Department.  Recently, Puente was given a grant from J-LAB, an organization run by McCormick Foundation, for her year-old Web site, Latina Voices.  While maintaining her blogs, teaching aspiring writers and working on her own creative works, Puente dedicates her life to promoting ethnic diversity and awareness.

The Chronicle: How did you get started in journalism?

Teresa Puente:  Nobody in my family had ever been a journalist. In fact, my big sister was the first one to go to college.  So it wasn’t a career I really knew anything about at all, but as a kid I always loved reading.  If you read a lot, it helps you develop strong writing skills.  So in high school, an English teacher pointed out to me that, “Hey you know, you’re a good writer, you should try out for the newspaper or the yearbook.”  So I applied for the yearbook and became a yearbook writer and then the editor, so I really caught the journalism bug

in high school.

The Chronicle: What do you hope to bring to your students?

TP: I think one of the key words that I try to promote is diversity.  That is an important value to me a journalist—writing about ethnic communities and promote diversity.  And I think now that I have become an educator that translates into some of the classes I have created.

Another class that we’re trying to get off the ground for the spring is called the World of Ethnic Media, which is to expose students to the diversity of ethnic press. For me, just promoting the diversity of coverage and covering diverse communities is what I think is a real key part of who I am as a journalist and who I am as an educator.

The Chronicle: What grant did you get for Latina Voices?

TP: J-LAB is the Institute for Interactive Journalism, and they fund a lot of new media type projects.  They have this grant every year called New Media Women Entrepreneurs, and I was one of the three people to get it the first year. They give a grant for a woman to do a new media start-up, and they are funded by the McCormick Foundation in Chicago,  so that was the grant that I got to start the Web site, and then I got the idea to start the class out of it.  So I’m still trying to grow it and most of the writers have been students at Columbia or women in Chicago.  So my goal is to see how I can grow it.

The Chronicle: And you have other blogs?

TP: Latina Voices is basically a Web site with online commentary and features. The blog that I have is with ChicagoNow, and they really launched at the end of May.  My blog is called Chicanisima.  So where Latina Voices is about promoting the next generation of Latina writers, ChicagoNow and my Chicanísima blog is really my take on the news and opinions.  It’s my voice and my blog, so I am the only one that writes for it, where as Latina Voices is to publish other writers.  I write about Latino issues, but that is a huge, broad issue. It’s something like as a blogger, I am an online columnist/opinion writer.  I do a lot of reporting in my blog, but it is clearly opinion.  I write about immigration, but I also write about national and international issues. Some of it is harder edged, but I try to have a balance with things that are more pop culture or culture.  So really, it’s a blog about Latino Affairs from politics to culture.

The Chronicle: Where do you see yourself going?  Do you have an overall goal as far as personal career and an educator?

TP: As an educator, I am proud for helping our curriculum become more diverse.  Also, I think that I have played the role of helping bring more multimedia into our curriculum.  It was my idea to put Flip videos in Reporting and Writing II and Feature Writing class. Next semester is a Multimedia Feature Writing class, so I kind of see myself as a lot about diversity and new media.  I feel like I am achieving those goals.

I guess in terms of professional or creative goals, it would be to turn the blog, either Latina Voices or Chicanísima, into a book—a collection of columns.  I am writing a travel memoir, about my experience living in Mexico because in 2002, I quit The Tribune and moved to Mexico for four years, and then I came back to Chicago to start working at Columbia, so I was a reverse migrant.  I went back to Mexico over 100 years after my grandfather had left and so where you hear stories of people heading north, I went south.  So I am writing a book about that.

The Chronicle: Do you think that going to online mediums and blogs is the way we need to go?

TP: I think so, it’s obviously trying times in the world of media. However, I also am very optimistic about the future of journalism because I think kind of what blogs like Latina Voices are a lot about entrepreneurial journalism because of the Internet.  There is so much opportunity for voices that might not otherwise ever be heard.