Veteran Latino journalist, Alejandro Escalona, wins Studs Terkel award

Veteran Latino journalist, Alejandro Escalona, wins Studs Terkel award
Alejandro Escalona

Alejandro Escalona is one of the four journalists receiving the Studs Terkel Community Media Award Thursday.

Given by the Community Media Workshop, celebrating its 25th anniversary, the awards recognize journalists that do work in the spirit of Studs Terkel.

Escalona is a veteran journalist with around 30 years of experience primarily in Spanish-language media in Chicago.

In the mid 1980s, Escalona worked for El Católico, a Spanish-language newspaper published by the Archdiocese of Chicago.

In those years he would visit churches and meet with priests and parishioners to talk about what was happening in their neighborhoods. That led him to stories on immigration and gang violence.

Escalona said he has been inspired by the work of Studs Terkel.

"He was a great interviewer," Escalona said. "And the reason why is because he really listened to people."

Escalona later went on to become the editor at ¡Exito!, and then Hoy Chicago, the Spanish-language Tribune Company newspaper.

There he advocated for stories such as one about Ana Esparza, a young undocumented girl in need of a liver transplant but unable to get funding. This story first reported by ¡Exito! reporter Jorge Luis Mota, a former Terkel winner, was picked up by local and national media.

"She became a symbol for undocumented children who don't have access to transplants," Escalona said. "This issue continues 20 years later."

Under Escalona's leadership at ¡Exito! they also published an investigation with The Chicago Tribune into the Hispanic Democratic Organization, the first time Spanish-language media in Chicago examined patronage on a local level.

"We were the first Latino publication that held them accountable," Escalona said.

Later Escalona went on to write columns for the Chicago Sun-Times, La Raza newspaper and the Huffington Post. There he continued in the spirit of Studs to tell the stories of immigrants and Chicago's Latino community.

Around that time a friend also recommended he start a Facebook page for his column and that opened up new opportunities for Escalona online.

Last year, he became the web editor for Telemundo Chicago, where he previously worked as political editor providing on air analysis.

Escalona said he thinks Terkel might be intrigued at how quickly you connect to readers through social media.

"You post your content on Facebook and you get an immediate reaction," Escalona said. "I think Studs Terkel would get a kick out of that."

Escalona said he is honored to receive this award.

"It's a recognition that Spanish-language media is relevant and still growing," he said.

Also winning the Terkel Award this year are Steve Bogira of The Chicago Reader and Steve James and Gordon Quinn of Kartemquin Films. Fred and Nikki Will Stein also will receive the Uplifting Voices Award. Katie Kather, who recently graduated from Columbia College's master's of journalism program, will receive an award for her work.

(For full disclosure, I'm on the board of the Community Media Workshop, teach at Columbia College and am also a past Terkel winner.) The event, which raises funds for the nonprofit Community Media Workshop, will be held Thursday, March 6, 5 to 8 p.m. at Columbia College Chicago, 1104 S. Wabash, 8th floor. Tickets $125.

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