This feature is part of an occasional Public Narrative series to highlight the news outlets that cover Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods and suburbs. Follow and join the conversation using the hashtag #ChicagoistheWorld.
Ana Maria Ugalde-Montes de Oca sat in the back of her small newsroom on a sunny morning in the Chicago suburb of Berwyn. It’s not the same desk she sat at 31 years ago when the paper started, but it’s where she continues to publish “information that the community needs.”
“We wanted to make sure that everyone in the community had access to the information they needed,” said Montes de Oca. “We’re small, it’s true. But we’re beloved by the community.”
El Día counts on a small staff of three full-time employees and two on-call reporters. The Spanish-language paper where Montes de Oca is editor, is one of the nearly 200 ethnic and community media outlets that play a vital role in Chicago’s media landscape. These news outlets cover the day-to-day lives of people with a familiarity and specificity that comes from being a part of the neighborhood.
It’s no secret that journalism is facing a challenging moment. This is especially true in Chicago. But it’s very true for Chicago’s small ethnic media publications whose audiences are often — although not always — immigrant communities.
“People are very worried about what’s happening with (President) Trump’s executive orders,” said Montes de Oca. “They call us and voice those concerns often.”
El Día covers immigration issues and makes them specific to — and, importantly, accessible to — Chicago’s Latinx community. And like many other community outlets, it does it in the languages of the audiences it serves, Spanish and English. (In Chicago we speak more than 150 languages.)
“We serve the African-American community and other communities too. And not all members of the Hispanic community speak Spanish.” Regardless of who they are reaching, El Día aims to make news accessible. “We keep our language simple and clear, so that it can be understood by everyone.”
Language is not the only thing that has changed since the paper began.
It started as a three-day-a-week publication, but today El Día is a free weekly. “My dream has always been to become a daily publication,” said Montes de Oca. She wants to see the paper grow and be able to cover more issues. But that means more reporters, and more money.
So what keeps El Día from going daily? “La economía” — the economy. It is common among many Chicagoland Spanish-language publications to distribute their papers free of charge. It’s the advantage of a bigger, broader readership.
The result, however, is that they rely entirely on advertisements to finance the paper’s operations. Though El Día still enjoys a healthy and loyal contingent of advertisers, many advertisers no longer see print as the most effective way to reach clients.
And sometimes, even that distribution is not broad enough. The news outlets need the support of their neighbors passing the word. Montes de Oca remembers: “There was an organization I learned about that was only four blocks away from us. They serve our community but when they think about the media, they think about the Chicago Tribune. They don’t always think to contact us, although we’re the ones in the neighborhood.”
Quotes in this story have been translated from Spanish to English by the author/interviewer. El Día is just one of the thousands of news outlets listed in Public Narrative’s media guide, “Getting On the Air, In Print and Online.”