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Mercedes Mejia informs listeners via Michigan Public Radio and its allied Internet links
By Kevin Milliken for La Prensa


October 2012: While Mercedes Mejia presents stories to faithful listeners on Michigan Public Radio, the Latina journalist also wants them to see, hear, read, and ‘experience’ stories she covers.

The 33-year old New Mexico native is what you might call a new breed of journalist who is experimenting with video, audio, photos, and text to go beyond a typical radio story by extending it to the Internet. All of those aspects of her work marry together the varied experience she brings to Michigan’s public radio airwaves, which can be heard at 91.7 FM Ann Arbor/Detroit/Toledo, 91.1 FM Flint, and 104.1 FM West Michigan.

Mercedes Mejia

Photos courtesy of Rodrigo Gaya and/or Michigan Radio.

While Ms. Mejia produces interviews for shows such as All Things Considered and Stateside, she also uses her extensive video production, editing, and graphic design skills from her work at Univision Spanish language television and Edit House Production to bring visual elements to Internet stories. The idea is to add more elements to radio stories that listeners may seek at Michigan Public Radio’s website. It’s also tacit recognition that news consumers increasingly are using the Internet as a primary source of information.


“When I first got to Michigan Radio, they were just starting out with their online presence,” she said. “I would seek out videos, put them online and pair them with reports from journalists. That was one of the things, right off the bat, that set me apart from anyone else there. Nobody else was doing video at that point.”


One of her favorite mixes of radio and online journalism came during a series of special reports comparing how Detroit and New Orleans were engaging education reform in their shrinking cities. The Motor City had seen an outmigration of families due to the economy while a lot of people evacuated New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, never to return.


“The online presence in journalism is just huge,” she explained. “People aren’t only listening to the radio. They’re going online to find the news. They’re going online to see what’s happening in the community. At michiganradio.org, we put everything we do online and expand on it.”


Ms. Meija cited the upcoming Dia de los Muertos celebration as a story that may never make it on the air because of its visual components, but called it a great candidate to go directly online. So she may marry video, photos, and text alongside narratives from Latinos who celebrate the holiday tradition in recognition of lost loved ones.


Another recent example of her multimedia skills on display came during coverage of a vigil in Royal Oak, Michigan for the U.S. ambassador to Libya who was killed in what is now being called a terrorist attack.


“I took photos, got some audio interviews,” she explained. “I put up two, one-minute audio spots and online you saw photos and more text expanding on the story. That’s a great example of how we’re doing more than just radio.”


Ms. Mejia admitted the multimedia approach feeds her creativity and curiosity as a journalist. Sometimes an Internet story is little more than extra text and a podcast. But when it’s possible for two people to go on a story, she’ll handle the video end of it.


“Sometimes we do what we call ‘audio postcards’ where we string together the best of what people have said in their comments on stories—just features or profiles of people we do it that way,” she said. “I get to follow the stories I think are of interest.”


Another recent multimedia story involved a tent city set up along an interstate on MDOT property. The long-term, communal living campsite for homeless people had been allowed to stand for nearly two years before state transportation officials decided it was too dangerous to remain and dismantled it. During the summer, between 40 and 60 people would live at the site.


“From their side, it was better than living underneath a bridge,” she explained. “They would hold weekly meetings on Sundays to discuss issues occurring there. It was interesting. Churches supported them, there were other people around them.”

Ms. Mejia began her public radio career while in college, as a student reporter at KUNM in Albuquerque. While there, she was able to travel to Cuba for a music-themed assignment in the Caribbean region. She got a press visa to tag along with a local band that was scheduled to play at the International Jazz Festival in Havana about a decade ago. While there, she also reported a story about a Cuban arts institute where young people learn to perform music.

“That memory has always been with me because it’s one of the all-time highlights for me as a journalist,” she said. “To go to Cuba and get to experience that—not a lot of people get to do that.”


Ms. Mejia also studied abroad in Brazil and spent part of her youth in Ecuador 15 years ago as part of Amigos de las Américas, a social work program for teens and college students.


Fate brought Ms. Mejia to Ann Arbor: her long-term partner is doing his graduate studies in architecture and urban planning at the University of Michigan. She made the move and was fortunate enough to land a part-time job as a production assistant three years ago at the public radio station, which later turned into a full-time role as a multimedia producer.


“I’m constantly learning and sharpening my skills as I go. Working there has allowed me to bring together all the elements of journalism that I love: radio, video, photography, online content and hosting.” she explained. “It’s really cool. I’m really happy now that I feel like I’m using everything I know.”


Ms. Mejia admitted she feels like her work is on the cutting-edge, to some degree. She recognizes journalism is entering a new multimedia era—and wants to be part of it. 

“People go online for a variety of reasons. They may go online to listen to stories, but most of the time they go on to see visuals. They may click on video if it’s good, gets their attention,” she said. “We’ve had videos get 6,000 or 10,000 hits. We had one that was produced by one of our other producers that got 500,000 hits. Those are the things that if we grab a viewer’s attention, then they may keep wanting to come back as their go-to. We want to keep them connected.”


Each assignment is carefully crafted through meetings with her news director, a video producer, and other station staff. But she regularly carries an audio recorder, a video camera, a smartphone, and whatever else is needed to an assignment.


“You have to experiment. You just have to go out there and do it,” she said. “I know what I need to get to do a good video. But you have to give yourself more time. I never thought I would be doing all of this together. I would consider myself part of that new breed, yes. We try to do as many components the best way we can to give people the information.”


Ms. Mejia, like many Latinos in Northwest Ohio, is the first in her family to graduate from college. She earned a bachelor of arts degree in Latin American studies and journalism. She is also fluent in Spanish and Portuguese.


Her parents moved to the U.S. from Ecuador. She grew up in Albuquerque with two older brothers. Both of her parents worked fulltime, so she lived many years with her maternal grandparents. Her parents divorced when she was five years old.


“That’s how I learned Spanish, and I’m so grateful I did because it’s been a great asset to speak two languages,” she recalled.



While Ms. Mejia struggled at first to find ways to stay true to her Latino roots, she has found multiple ways to do just that: starting with salsa dancing at an Ann Arbor club.


“That’s something I’ve always loved to do,” she said. “That was always my social thing. I found a huge, great community here in Ann Arbor that loves the music as part of the culture. I found the group Dance Revolution and they made me feel at home.”


Earlier this year Ms. Mejia also joined PALMA-Latino Mentoring Association, a University of Michigan-based, student-run education promotion organization that serves Latino families in the Ann Arbor area.  The group meets twice weekly at a local library, where parents take ESL classes while their Latino children receive help with homework. 100 people now are involved in the effort, many of them college students.


“Last semester, I was a tutor for two middle-school students in math,” she explained. “It was great for me to feel like I’m connected with the Latino community. There is a large community in Ann Arbor, but you don’t really see them. I got to know them and their families and at the end of the semester we had a huge party. I’m still connected to the two Hispanic girls I tutored.”


Ms. Mejia admitted “it was a shock” moving to Michigan from New Mexico as far as the weather is concerned. “The summers are amazing,” she said. “I thoroughly enjoy the summer here. But it’s so short.”


But she admitted Ann Arbor is not as diverse socioeconomically as Albuquerque and she struggled to find good Mexican food. Besides a good taco stand, Ms. Mejia travels to Detroit to find authentic cuisine.


On the Internet: Michigan Radio,  www.michiganradio.org


PALMA (Proyecto Avance, Latino Mentoring Association): Excitement, Enthusiasm, and Service to the Ann Arbor-area Latino Community, http://www.diversity.umich.edu/about/faces_palma.php


Copyright © 1989 to 2012 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 11/07/12 10:05:17 -0800.




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