Making Journalism (Her)story: Bianca Vázquez Toness
By Feature Editors
Samantha Casseus, Ruth Cormier, Ashlie Pruitt
Mentor: Alex Sirotovich
From Nellie Bly’s work as an undercover reporter in the late 1800s, to Barbara Walter’s work as the first woman co-hosting an evening news program, women continue to break and challenge the bounds of media. With these fearless women laying the foundation, Teen Voices is recognizing notable female journalists of today.
Reporting the untold stories of “others,” Bianca Vázquez Toness is a reporter at Boston’s National Public Radio (NPR) station, WBUR. Drawing on her experience as a foreign correspondent living and working in Mexico, Vázquez Toness discusses her transition from print to radio journalism, and how to find the hidden story.
Teen Voices (TV): Why do you write?
Bianca Vázquez Toness (BT): That’s a big question. I really like to capture peoples’ lives, peoples’ experiences, and document them. I am typically attracted to untold stories. Stories about immigrants, young people, the poor, people who would be described as “other.” I’m really attracted to the other side of things, the hidden stories.
TV: What or who inspired you to write while you lived in Mexico?
BT: A lot of Americans who were in Mexico looked for stories that confirmed stereotypes they already had of Mexico, and I wanted to find other types of stories. I felt like there was more to the country than what people typically think or understand.
TV: How does being a journalist in Mexico compare to being a journalist in the United States?
BT: I approach my job here as someone who is explaining the place to people who might not know it. Even though [this is] their backyard, I try to give people a better understanding of the way people live, or the different forces that are changing a place, or try to challenge some of the stereotypes and certain understandings that people already have about that place.
TV: What makes radio more appealing to you than print journalism?
BT: I think they’re both appealing. I wouldn’t say that one is more important than the other. In a practical way, I was really interested in radio because radio is growing at a time [when] newspaper is not. But the thing that I do love about radio that’s different than print is that, often, I feel like there is more room for creativity, more room for really thinking about storytelling as a craft.
There is an advantage of a [radio’s] newsroom being sort of small and not having to cover absolutely everything in the [same] way that a newspaper is expected. Instead, you pick and choose what’s important. It’s been a little harder than I thought because we’re constantly re-asking the questions, “What matters? What do we tell?” When you don’t have as many resources as a newspaper and you don’t cover everything, you have to choose; and a lot of times it’s hard to make decisions.
TV: Are there any advantages being a female journalist?
BT: Yes. I think it’s more about being a young, female journalist. I look and sound young, and people sort of underestimate me. I used to be offended. It can be really frustrating. But people say things to me that they wouldn’t otherwise say because they underestimate me, and that is an advantage through an interview. The stories that I’m attracted to relate to real people, and I’m able to connect with them. I’m not very intimidating, so people are able to relax with me and be more open.
TV: What is it like to be a relatively young reporter working at WBUR?
BT: I’m definitely the youngest in our newsroom by a few years and the hardest lessons of this job, or any job, is developing the confidence to do things and really believe in and fight for your ideas. That’s a challenge.
TV: What impact does this work have on your everyday life?
BT: For most people, they become a bit more cynical. I believe that I started off a bit cynical. I have more of an appreciation for this city than most of my friends do. My friends usually don’t know what’s going on here. I feel like I’m much more plugged in than I would be otherwise.
Being in radio specifically, I’m much more aware of how I ask questions and get at the kind of answers I want. I’m much more self-aware about the way I might speak and the way that other people are speaking.
Considering a career in journalism? Stay tuned for more of our “Making Journalism (Her)story” series to meet more inspiring female journalists!
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