Women in Journalism: Q&A with Chabeli Carrazana
Chabeli Carrazana decided to get into journalism because she wanted a career that helped communities and elevated people’s stories.
“Journalism just seems like a natural combination of the things that I really enjoyed,” she said
I spoke with Carrazana, The 19th*’s economy reporter, as part of Women in Journalism, a project published in Solution Set to shine a light on the successes and struggles of women working in news, lift up their stories and achievements, and share their words of wisdom to guide young women in the space toward finding their own success.
In her current role at The 19th*, Carrazana covers the intersection of gender and economic policy and how changes in the labor market affect workers across the country. Previously, she has worked at The Orlando Sentinel as a space and business reporter covering the growing private space industry and business development in the Orlando area and labor issues. She has also worked at The Miami Herald as a tourism reporter, a role which came after her role at the organization as a healthcare reporter. She’s a graduate of The University of Florida with a degree in journalism.
Here is a condensed and lightly edited version of my conversation with Carrazana:
Why did you choose to pursue a career in journalism?
I was always really interested in reading and writing as a kid. I came here when I was five years old from Cuba, and reading and writing quickly became something that I could hold on to as one of my strengths when you’re an immigrant kid who is trying to adjust. When I was in high school, I had a really influential English teacher who said, “You know you might actually be really good at this.”
It’s always different when you hear that from somebody you respect and that put the idea in my head about journalism. Before that, when I thought about what I wanted to do, I really wanted to do work that helped people in some way or raised up people’s voices and stories in some way. Journalism just seems like a natural combination of the things that I really enjoyed. It got in my head, and I never returned back and never thought about doing anything else.
Do you have any role models or mentors in the journalism field or in general that you look up to?
There’s a lot of reporters that I look up to generally, but in terms of a mentor, I found one in my first job, working at the Miami Herald as a tourism reporter. One of the editors that I worked with, Amy Driscoll, actually was my editor in my very first job which was covering health care on a 6-month contract.
After the transition to the tourism job, she was my editor on a few really big projects I worked on, particularly around the Parkland school shooting in South Florida a few years ago. To do that first experience with her covering health care, and later on, when she was my editor on a few other things, she really became a big mentor for me. She was really focused on trying to help out young women journalists in a field.
There’s a lot of things spoken about the way that women journalists have to behave versus the way that male journalists have to; the way that you talk or dress or how you present yourself in interviews or how you build sources or how you get people to trust you.
It’s a little bit different for women and so she helped guide me through that a lot. And she was also just an incredible writing coach and a great mentor every time I applied for a job. I would ask her, how do I negotiate a salary or how do I advocate for myself being a young journalist and, at that point, not having a ton of experience but feeling like I could be up for the challenge?
She was really instrumental in that because there was nobody really to talk to about that. If I didn’t have her, I would have to figure it out on my own and I’m not sure that would have been very successful.
What advice would you give to your younger self when you were just starting out in journalism?
I think I was really afraid when I was first starting out to appear as though I didn’t know something or I didn’t have the right experience. That can be a little bit of a crutch because you’re not giving yourself the opportunity to learn as much as you can and ask as many questions as you can and take opportunities when they’re presented to you to learn from somebody else. I should have done that more because.
As I grew in doing that, I got better. I worked with people who had been doing it for much longer and I became more willing to ask them to guide me. I think younger me was less willing to be upfront about the things I didn’t know and it just elongated the amount of time before I started to really soak in some of the experience that some of my colleagues had because I was just so afraid to stand out as a young reporter. The more I realized that other people also didn’t know, I realized it was because we were all sort of learning together, and I just was so in my head.
How do you feel women are represented in your area of reporting? How do you think the business challenges facing the news industry have impacted the representation of women in your field?
Initially, when I first started covering the economy, I think I was the only woman reporter on the business desk. The editor was a woman as well, but I was very often in meetings where I was the only woman in the meeting. I was also a young woman, so it’s really hard for people to take you seriously, not necessarily because you’re not approaching the job seriously or your questions aren’t good, but there is just this initial bias that you have to overcome.
So that was really hard and especially later on, when I went to cover the space industry from a business perspective, that was really difficult because it was extremely technical, so there were a lot of hurdles there.
Secondly, it was incredibly male-dominated, both in terms of my sources and who I was talking to and in terms of the other reporters who were covering the beat. I think there was one other woman that I can think of locally. There was one other woman in the Florida region, and nationally there were a few others, but the vast majority rule was men, so that was hard building your reputation and covering a field that is really difficult to cover because it’s technical.
The economy is an industry that is knocked a lot for its lack of diversity, both in terms of gender and race. If you look at the Federal Reserve of the 400 economists at the Federal Reserve, one is a Black woman. So, the coverage of the economy in a lot of ways reflects the industry itself.
The field itself is not very diverse, although I have been really happy to see some wonderful women, journalists, and some other national organizations that are covering the economy more, and I follow them closely as well to see what they’re doing. There has been a little bit of progress, but it continues to be one of those beats that is really male-dominated, just like the industry is really male-dominated.
Do you feel like you need to make sacrifices in your personal life to compete with male coworkers?
I don’t think I’ve come up against any major challenges yet in terms of career and career advancement, but that’s largely because I don’t have children. I think that is the point where things change for a lot of people, and there is a question that comes up there a lot and I think about it now a lot too.
When thinking about having children, I think “What will that do to my career? How long will that put in it pause?” Also, journalism is an industry that is not doing too hot right now, so not very secure. I don’t think that’s a question that my male colleagues are asking themselves very much.
Even if men do have parental leave through their organization, which we don’t have a great track record of, it’s not going to be as much as I would have as a woman if I were to have a child, so that is a worry I have. Looking at the future and trying to think about what will happen to my career, I’m trying to move as fast as I can now before I hit that point and I hope that it doesn’t stall me out too much.
Are there ways that being a woman has been advantageous or helpful to your journalism?
We’re in a really interesting moment in journalism where places like The 19th* have come to exist because they recognize that there is a gap. There is an area of coverage that is missing, and for whatever reason, for many years, we did not focus very closely on coverage of issues that affect women from a policy or political perspective.
So much of it was beauty and lifestyle coverage, but there wasn’t really a dedicated outlet for something like this, which seems nonsensical. Women are half the population and half the electorate and half the labor force, but the 19th* has, I think, opened a big conversation on that and the value of bringing your lived experience to the job.
Luckily, I’m in a place now where the fact that I’m a woman and the fact that I’m a Latina is very much an asset to everything I’m doing every day because my advisors encouraged me to think about the ways that I can relate in my life to the coverage and to the people that I’m writing about.
That helps inform and create more nuanced coverage and so I hope that other places are looking at what we’re doing and seeing there is a benefit in bringing yourself to journalism, which I think for many years we sort of tried not to, dressed under the guise of bias, but that’s not necessarily the case. There is a more nuanced conversation to have about the value that your background brings to your reporting.
What point in your career was the most difficult for you (either an age, certain role, or specific instance) and how did it affect the way you think about the journalism field now and where it’s going?
There are a few things I could say but for me, the hardest was covering the Parkland shooting which was in February 2018. There was also a bridge that collapsed in Miami and killed several people less than a month later. Those two things happened back-to-back and we were covering all these kids who had died and also all of those who survived, but were living with this trauma.
I wrote a story about a Parkland survivor and spent a lot of time with him and then after that was thrust into covering the people who had died from the bridge collapse, so that was a really intense period. I think a lot of us who covered it, and I still talk to some of my friends at the Miami Herald, point back to that as being a really traumatic experience for all of us.
Covering that did raise a lot of questions about how we protect ourselves and each other when we have to be doing that on a daily basis and when it’s affecting us so directly and has still stayed with us in the years since. Every February 14th I still think about Parkland, so that was a really hard moment in terms of being a reporter. It really showed me that what you cover really does affect you and you have to find a way to work through that and not take it with you. It’s really hard when you’re really invested in a story like that.
Do you mentor other women? What’s your approach to mentorship?
Yeah, I do. I’m part of the Report for America Network and Alejandra Martinez, who’s a reporter in Texas, is one of my mentees. I check in with her every few weeks and months trying to help her in any way that I can and do some of the things that Amy [Driscoll] did for me. I tell her if she has a question that she doesn’t really feel comfortable asking other people, she can ask me and she doesn’t have to feel bad about it. I also help her with some story ideas that she has and working through what might be the best way to tackle something.
She’s really interested in doing a little bit more data work, which I do quite a bit covering the economy, and that’s something that I taught myself. Nobody really walked me through it, so I’m really excited to help her not have to figure it out on her own. It’s cool to be at this stage where you’re starting to have something useful to share with other people. But obviously, I feel like I still have a lot of learning to do myself.
What do you hope for the next generation of young women entering the journalism field? What are your hopes for them? What would you like that space to be like?
Well, I hope they have something to come into. There is a really big question about how we move forward. I’m excited about the nonprofit model in journalism because I do think in some ways that is the path forward.
Also, what I hope for is that we open up more opportunities for people to bring their lived experiences to the job. When I was in other jobs, I didn’t think about the gender or the race that I was covering, which was really missing a really big part of the story. Now, because the 19th* exists, I do it all the time. This is my job. I also feel like I see more stories from other outlets that are doing the same. They are really creating the space for reporters to look at the way that gender and race play a factor in a story and to bring their own experiences into covering that story since this oftentimes makes for a better story. I hope we continue to move in that direction.
I also hope that some of this bias and some of these hurdles that women are coming up against in the field, which is not specific to journalism, start to diminish a little bit. I think that there are some different standards that we sought and a lot of that is internalized and cultural. Without policies to support women and people of all gender backgrounds, it’s really difficult to see how we could reach a different conclusion than where we are now, where there are still a lot of disparities for women in journalism. There are also a lot of women who feel discouraged by the industry and end up leaving. It does feel like we are making a little progress on that, so I hope that continues.