When Hurricane Dorian struck Georgia in 2019, Lisa Galarza knew she had to do something.
Previously, she had used her personal Facebook page to post weather alerts in Spanish and keep her Spanish-speaking contacts in Savannah, Georgia informed. But when the coastal city was ordered to evacuate to Atlanta, many Spanish-speaking residents were confused.
Galarza noticed that key information, such as updates on road closures and the duration of the evacuation notice, just wasn’t reaching Spanish-speaking audiences. Galarza took matters into her own hands, launching the Facebook page “Pasa La Voz Savannah” to connect Savannah’s Spanish-speaking community to critical information.
Meanwhile, just about 100 miles north, Fernando Soto launched Nuestro Estado in 2018 to fill a similar information gap in Charleston, SC. But he was facing challenges with capacity and bandwidth.
Journalists Soto and Galarza agreed to merge their respective Spanish-language news outlets in January. The goal of Pasa La Voz Noticias is to connect Latinx communities in South Carolina and Georgia with reliable, up-to-date news and information.
Nuestro Estado was a participant in the fourth cohort of the UNC-Knight Foundation Table Stakes program. Soto’s challenge was to expand the capacity of the organization to live beyond his work and grow Nuestro Estado’s audience.
Soto – who was born in Mexico and raised in Charleston – said his goal in founding the original Facebook page was to fill information gaps faced by Spanish-speaking readers and immigrants — people like his parents. Soon, Soto said, interested advertisers allowed him to transform the page into a full-time job.
Galarza founded Pasa La Voz Savannah in 2019 with a similar goal of disseminating hurricane alerts. Like Nuestro Estado, Pasa La Voz utilized Facebook as its home, growing to 50,000+ followers and gaining philanthropic funding from The Pivot Fund in 2022.
“It was the lack of information in our community that really got this thing going,” she said. According to Galarza, the only other Spanish language newspaper in Savannah at the time published once a month — not nearly frequently enough to keep Spanish-speaking consumers of news safe and informed, she said.
In January, Soto connected with Galarza to discuss the possibility of joining Pasa La Voz as a part-time editor. The two realized the overlap in their coverage of coastal Spanish-speaking communities and considered a merger of the outlets as an opportunity to pursue financial and operational sustainability.
“It means that people are served a little bit more thoroughly because there are more hands on deck,” Soto said. They realized they could better serve Spanish-language audiences across Georgia and South Carolina as one brand.
“The merger helps Fernando not have to be the entirety of an organization just as one person and that’s such an important shift for entrepreneurial news leaders,” said Lizzy Hazeltine, Nuestro Estado’s Table Stakes coach in 2020-2021.
“We are trying to pursue financial stability so that we’re able to hire more reporters and grow the team,” said Soto. “This isn’t just about myself, it’s not just about Lisa. It’s really about our community.”
This isn’t just about myself, it’s not just about Lisa. It’s really about our community.”
Aside from adding more bandwidth, Soto and Galarza said that a merger has helped them improve their coverage — a takeaway other newsrooms can learn from.
“I think a lot of times, in our industry, people might get into the weeds with competition and whatnot, and it’s fun to have some kind of competition,” Soto said. “But ultimately, when it comes to information access, (in) English or Spanish, it’s really important to be collaborating across different newsrooms that serve the same purpose.”
At the time of publication, Pasa La Voz has a Facebook reach of just over 50,000 people and the two outlets have consolidated their websites. Last year, the publication launched a Day of the Dead festival, which had approximately 7,500 in attendance. Pasa La Voz is also in the beta testing phase of an app.
The organization’s main goal moving forward is to simply reach more people and it has done so through community engagement and creating content that meets the community’s specific information needs.
“Fernando’s work, along with the work of other (Spanish-language news sources) across the country demonstrate that translation was never enough to serve Latinx communities,” Hazeltine said. “Audience focus is so important. Like for mainstream English language news, attentiveness to your audience’s needs, in addition to delivering news and information in Spanish, is absolutely essential.”
The merger will give the two founders bandwidth to build on the work they’ve done generating trust and informing communities, they said.
“We’re just trying to do our job the best we can, we’re trying to help as many people as we can and just keep on growing and informing,” Galarza said.