New reporters, new positions help ensure strong Nebraska journalism for the long haul

Help us welcome two new journalists to the Nebraska Journalism Trust. Chris Bowling is a reporter at the Flatwater Free Press, and Karlha Velasquez Rivas is a multimedia producer at Silicon Prairie News.

Nebraska Journalism Trust

The following is a column from Nebraska Journalism Trust Executive Director Matt Wynn originally published on Flatwater Free Press.

Our office has recently gotten a little more crowded. And that’s a very, very good problem to have.

Two new journalists, Chris Bowling and Karlha Velasquez Rivas, joined. Chris is a reporter at the Flatwater Free Press, and Karlha is a multimedia producer at Silicon Prairie News. 

Their names may sound familiar. 

Chris has spent the past four years leading Omaha’s alt weekly, The Reader. Karlha has served in the same role at El Perico, Omaha’s first Spanish language newspaper.

The publications announced early in the summer they would be closing shop. We’re honored that a donor stepped up to help us bring them aboard.

Our latest  hires come during an incredible year of growth. In January, we were a five person staff with one publication. 

We’ll finish 2023 with 16 full-time employees across two publications, and plans for another in the works. 

We’ll have wrapped up a second straight year of our News Academy, in partnership with 1st Sky Omaha. And we’ll have added key non-journalism roles which are strengthening our organization and giving us the chance to do even more journalism moving forward. 

Those roles have gone largely unheralded. So let me herald away. 

In May, Operations and Finance Director Christine Baude joined the fold. Christine came to us from the Charles Drew Health Center, where, among a kajillion other responsibilities, she oversaw the scheduling of their small army of clinicians. She has done wonders for our staff and my peace of mind, professionalizing our startup nonprofit.

Advancement Director Barbara Soderlin came aboard in August after five years with the University of Nebraska Foundation, where she raised funds on behalf of the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources. A former reporter, Barbara has thrived in this new role. Already, she’s met with dozens of key stakeholders, organized our outreach efforts, and deftly dovetailed donors’ interests with our commitment to high-quality journalism. 

We’re in the midst of hiring an Audience Manager, who will better serve our growing membership. And we have another position we’ll be posting shortly.

These roles help ensure we have an organization that can fight back against the steady drumbeat of cutbacks across the state’s journalism landscape. Our future is bright. 

But I don’t want to sugarcoat the larger picture. Hiring journalists whose publications have shuttered, or who have been laid off, is the silver lining of a particularly ominous cloud.

Since the Flatwater Free Press began publishing, The Reader, El Perico, the Plattsmouth Journal and KPTM, the local Fox TV affiliate, have stopped producing news entirely. Omaha’s drivetime talk radio, KFAB, is now hosted by a guy in… Des Moines. Layoffs and furloughs and all the hallmarks of corporate journalism continue unabated at Nebraska TV stations and newspapers from border to border.

And those are just the ones I know about! 

That broader context deserves to be acknowledged. 

Still, on a personal level, this feels particularly good.

As a former intern at the Reader, I’m especially honored to be a part of carrying the publications’ legacies forward. Reader Publisher John Heaston gave me my first break in this nutty business. He is a friend. He is an inspiration. He has been a cheerleader and mentor in building the Nebraska Journalism Trust. 

These roles are, in part, a tribute to John and what he built.

Chris’ official title will be “Omaha Reader Fellow.” He will use his serious skills to help us tell important investigative stories in Omaha and beyond – he’s already working on several that I’m excited to read.

In her new role, Karlha will help us evolve our approach to storytelling to include more video and multimedia on Silicon Prairie News. 

I sincerely hope that another publication will pick up the mantle The Reader carried for so long, especially when it comes to arts and culture. There is work to be done, an audience to be served.

Meanwhile, our audience – that’s you – continues to help us build nonprofit journalism in Nebraska. None of our work would be possible without thousands of supporters. You’ve given us hundreds and hundreds of story ideas. You’ve given us your probing questions at our forums and been fantastic company at any number of mixers and happy hours. You’ve supported us with your donations, which give us the confidence to grow. 

Thank you. Here’s to what comes next.


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