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Sentinel welcomes our new Culture & Values reporter: Bianca Morales
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Sentinel welcomes our new Culture & Values reporter: Bianca Morales

Report for America corps member will inform & inspire with stories of Cultural Expression & Community Values — with your help

  • Bianca Morales, the Tucson Sentinel's new Cultural Expression & Community Values reporter.
    Bianca Morales, the Tucson Sentinel's new Cultural Expression & Community Values reporter.

A new fulltime journalist will be exploring the ties that bind us and the dreams that push us in Tucson and Southern Arizona, with support from TucsonSentinel.com's readers and the national Report for America program. We've hired Bianca Morales as our Cultural Expression and Community Values reporter.

Starting next week, she'll be covering hard news and contextual journalism on the deep traditions and creative cross-cultural innovations in local art, performance, music, writing, architecture and public design, theatre, faith and religion, community groups, food and folkways.

"I still pinch myself," said Morales, a Puerto Rico native who has studied and worked in Florida recently. "This cross-country move to Arizona is a trip I'll be making with my whole heart."

Going far beyond a traditional "arts" beat, Morales will report stories that are bilingual and intersectional, and uphold the Sentinel's tradition of accountability journalism while expanding our coverage.

The Sentinel was one of just two Arizona news outlets selected this year for a new local journalism position backed by Report for America from among about 600 applications across the country. Under the program, local readers and community members must also support part of a corps member's salary.

"I was born and raised in the southwestern part of Puerto Rico, in Mayagüez," Morales said. "Growing up, my family faced many struggles, but my grandma especially made sure I had an outlet — that safety net was reading and storytelling. She made sure there was always space for my creativity in her house; that's where my love for words comes from."

"My hometown is colorful. It’s home to the annual mango festival, the University of Puerto Rico’s Recinto Universitario de Mayagüez, the cathedral where I was baptized, and more," she said. "But where I come from, opportunities in journalism are few and far between. Like many people before me, I decided to leave my little island to hopefully find a way to make my goals come true. Isn't that the ever-elusive America dream?"

"Arizona and the Southwest are very different from than the southwestern part of a tropical island in the Caribbean, but there are still familiar cultural resonances," Morales said. "I'm eager to find those things that are similar, and what's very different in Tucson than anyplace else."

Support Bianca's Cultural Expression & Community Values reporting!

The Sentinel's new journalist will have a portion of her fulltime salary covered by funding from Report for America, but the remainder must be paid with financial contributions from readers like you, to our independent nonprofit newsroom. You can become a member of the Watchdog Club, and help fund this new reporting position, the bilingual IDEA desk, and all of the Sentinel's vital independent journalism.

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Morales studied at Valencia College in Orlando, Fla., and then the Nicholson School of Communication and Media at the University of Central Florida. Her work has previously appeared in the West Orange Times and Observer, NSM Today, and the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.

Morales will explore not just what's happening locally, but go far beyond listing current cultural events and simple reviews to the essential *why* these things are happening. She will be interviewing the creative people behind the expressions that inspire us, and telling our community why they're driven to build and craft and reflect this town in their work, as well as placing things in necessary context.

As our new Cultural Expression and Community Values reporter, she will join the Sentinel's current Report for America corps member, IDEA (Inclusivity, Diversity, Equity & Access) reporter Bennito L. Kelty, as part of our nonprofit newsroom. Both Morales and Kelty report in English and Spanish.

"Local journalism is vital and Report for America looks forward to helping the Tucson Sentinel increase its coverage of the deeply rooted traditions and cross-cultural innovations that tie the Tucson community through Bianca Morales's on-the-ground reporting," said Teri Hayt, Report for America's deputy director of corps excellence and a former managing editor at the Arizona Daily Star.

Being picked to host yet another corps member is "a great honor for our local nonprofit newsroom, and a humbling affirmation of the quality of journalism that the entire Sentinel staff is providing our community ," said Dylan Smith, editor and publisher of TucsonSentinel.com. "It's also a testament to the way our readers and community leaders have stepped up to support the Sentinel's reporting."

"We're just as excited as Bianca to have her start exploring what makes Tucson such a wonderful, weird and special place," Smith said.

Morales said she wants to learn about how local Native communities have dealt with the losses of the COVID-19 pandemic, find out more about the role of under-appreciated animals such as javelina and scorpions in the ecosystem, and take some time to appreciate the variety of Tucson's cultural scene.

About Report for America

The privately organized Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, is a two-year program (with an option for three) that delivers a wide range of benefits to its corps of journalists placed on local newsrooms. Beyond paying up to half of the journalists' salaries, it provides ongoing training and mentoring by leading journalists, peer networking, and memberships to select professional organizations. To help connect corps members to their communities, they are required to undertake a service project, which often includes students in journalism-related activities. Sentinel IDEA reporter Bennito L. Kelty has been working with local high-school students as part of his service project.

The newly selected newsrooms, along with those renewing their partnership, will expand the size of Report for America's corps to more than 300, including nearly 270 newsrooms across all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, in 2022.

"The selections were made mostly on the basis of which newsrooms defined the most compelling gaps in coverage and plans to deploy corps members well," said the group.

"Yes, local news is in crisis — but this batch of newsrooms also fills us with tremendous hope," said Steven Waldman, president and co-founder of Report for America.

"Report for America provides a unique opportunity for journalists to pursue meaningful, local beat reporting that sadly is missing from many of today's newsrooms," said Earl Johnson, director of admissions for the organization. "Together, our emerging and experienced corps members will produce tens of thousands of articles on critically undercovered topics—schools, government, healthcare, the environment, communities of color, and more."

Report for America undertakes a highly competitive national interview and vetting process before matching potential hires with local newsrooms like the Sentinel. Last year, more than 1,800 applications were received for about 70 reporting jobs across the country.

TucsonSentinel.com went through a highly selective proposal and interview process before being chosen as a host newsroom for a second corps member.

"We're tremendously excited to be renewed as a Report for America newsroom, and have this opportunity to grow the Tucson Sentinel's newsroom even more," said Smith. "It's rewarding to play a role in rebuilding local news across the country, with RFA and our work with groups such as the Institute for Nonprofit News and Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers."

"While chain-run newspapers and stations have cut and cut and cut yet again — and are poised to continue to shrink their work rather than invest in the future — truly local news organizations like the Sentinel aren't just breaking important news stories — we're leading the way in fixing the news business," Smith said. "And we're doing that with support from national groups such as Report for America, along with vital donations from members of this community. We're very grateful for all of those contributions."

The only other Arizona publication to be awarded new RFA positions this year was the Arizona Republic, owned by national chain Gannett Inc., which hired two journalists to cover rural areas across the state.

"Make no mistake, the greatest threat to democracy is the collapse of local news," said Charles Sennott, GroundTruth CEO and co-founder of Report for America. "We are excited to welcome these newsrooms and look forward to empowering them to meet the growing information needs of the communities they serve."

Support the Sentinel's vital reporting — join the Watchdog Club today!

Give today to the solid, reliable journalism that is the bedrock of our democracy, and help underwrite your local nonprofit news site: the independent TucsonSentinel.com!

Subscribe and stretch your donation over time:

$10/mo. Cub Reporter
$15/mo. Printer's Devil
$20/mo. Stringer
$40/mo. Correspondent
$50/mo. Senior Correspondent
Enter your own monthly amount (number only)

Or give a secure one-time gift with PayPal or your credit card:

$5,000 Newshound
$2,500 Trusted Source
$1,000 Copy Desk Chief
$500 Correspondent
$250 Stringer
$100 Printer's Devil
$50 Cub reporter
$25 Informed Source
$10 Dear Reader
Enter your own amount (below)

Right here, you can become a member of our WATCHDOG CLUB group of supporters — with a variety of donation options — and you'll get:

  • Special members-only email updates
  • Invitations to member coffees and happy hours with Sentinel journalists
  • Advance notice and special tickets for TucsonSentinel.com events
  • Invitations to special VIP donor events
  • TucsonSentinel.com's mission-driven nonprofit reporting available for everyone to read
  • The knowledge that you're helping TucsonSentinel.com report the most accurate news about meaningful events in Southern Arizona

With the challenges we face as a community, and the heated partisan rhetoric about which set of "facts" to believe, there's never been a more urgent need for independent, transparent and vigilant local reporting. And sadly, chain media outlets run by companies headquartered thousands of miles away have demonstrated that they're not going to invest more in our town. They're just going to continue to cut.

You may not know that there are hundreds of journalists who are no longer reporting, just right here in Tucson, compared to just more than a decade ago. There are only about half as many newspaper journalists in this country than a decade ago. Layoffs and shutdowns at chain newspapers and TV stations mean there are many fewer watchdogs looking out for us than a decade ago. Across the country, there are tens of thousands of reporters who've been laid off — many just this year alone. Even as our community is growing, our press is shrinking dramatically.

That's why it's even more important to have journalism here that's invested in the success and future of this community. Give today to invest in TucsonSentinel.com's award-winning authentically local news for 2022 and beyond.

And it's why we have big plans to expand our reach, deepen our reporting, and increase the impact of authentically local news this year and next — but we need help from the community right now.

We're committed to making quality news accessible; we'll never set up a paywall or charge for our site. But we rely on your support to bring you, your neighbors and everyone else in Southern Arizona independent news without the spin.

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