Maritza L. Félix

Maritza L. Félix, founder and publisher of Conecta Arizona, has been named Local Media Association’s Innovator of the Year in Content and Audience for her entrepreneurship building multiplatform original, digital news offerings for Spanish-speaking audiences, as well as growing new content, audience and revenue opportunities in local journalism.

Each year, the Local Media News Innovator of the Year award recognizes local media executives who are pioneering new concepts, experimenting in new and creative ways, and delivering impactful results for their companies.

Many news organizations talk about the importance of audience engagement, being audience-first or meeting the audience where they are. Those are more than just slogans for Félix. They define the nontraditional news outlet she’s created.

Like many good innovations, Conecta Arizona started with a problem. In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Félix noticed that there was a lack of official guidance available for Spanish-language audiences; misinformation about COVID-19 was being widely shared on social media platforms. Félix says her own mother was sharing such posts on Facebook, causing Félix to use her journalism skills to track down more trustworthy information. Félix also paid attention to where the Spanish-language discussions were happening. WhatsApp was an especially important platform for reaching these audiences.

Conecta Arizona was born out of this effort to fill the gap for trustworthy information about the pandemic and to combat misinformation. WhatsApp and Facebook have been key platforms for reaching this otherwise poorly-served audience of Spanish-language speakers.

Two-plus years later, Félix and her team have grown Conecta Arizona to encompass a diverse mix of platforms and formats, but always keep two-way dialogue with the audience at the forefront, and build content and experiences for the platforms that audiences prefer. The centerpiece remains the daily WhatsApp broadcast La Hora del Cafecito, connecting Arizonans and Sonorans with information, news, resources, memes, and experts in Spanish. Other platforms now include a Telegram channel, a weekly radio show, a Substack newsletter and social media, along with a new podcast.

Félix notes with pride that Conecta Arizona is not a “traditional” media outlet. While that means that, in practice, some industry colleagues and funders have struggled to categorize her disruptive approach, the truth is that traditional media outlets could take many lessons from the engaged audience Conecta Arizona has built.

Conecta Arizona was accepted into the second cohort of the LMA Lab for Journalism Funding, made possible with continued support from Google News Initiative. At the cohort’s “Pitch Day,” a panel of judges from six national funding organizations awarded first place to Conecta Arizona for its approach to meeting audiences where they are and delivering essential, trusted information.

“I am inspired by how Maritza ‘walks the talk’ by truly meeting her audiences on their preferred platforms,” said Frank Mungeam, chief innovation officer at LMA. “Conecta Arizona solves a real information void in ways that respect and engage audiences, earning their trust in the process. The fact that Conecta Arizona does not operate like a traditional news outlet is evidence that what she’s created is a disruptive innovation. I believe her approach to putting the audience at the center is one other news leaders should emulate.”

The border has been my home and inspiration since I was born, but during the pandemic I rediscovered it through the eyes of my community thanks to Conecta Arizona.

Conecta Arizona allowed me to innovate in one of the most challenging moments in our history. In the midst of isolation, we learned to communicate, inform and support each other. What began as an experiment to meet my community’s need for life-saving information at the start of the pandemic has grown into a news organization that includes a podcast, a radio show and daily conversations on WhatsApp and other social media platforms. Conecta Arizona is based on listening and the need to bring dialogue back to journalism. We have created such a strong community: we innovate together, and we discover and develop new paths of communication that are based on journalism and focused on our communities, our border, our accents and ¡en Español!

We build bridges where others build walls.

Enviado desde el iPhone de #ToñitaMachetes y a merced de Siri