“A Part of Something Revolutionary”

Sliding into DMs, an unconventional workspace and excitement for bison

Stefania Lugli first learned about Report for America as a digital intern with our nonprofit home, The GroundTruth Project. Most of her work involved supporting corps members with their dispatches. Within weeks, she knew she wanted to be a corps member.

Report for America corps member Stefania Lugli is a journalist with the Wichita Beacon.

“I was determined to start my career this way. I believed that the support system through Report for America would put me in a safe place to explore my journalism, while also serving others,” Lugli said.

Lugli, who is originally from Florida and born into a Venezuelan family, joined the Wichita Beacon, a nonprofit newsroom in Kansas, as a watchdog reporter this summer. Report for America touched base with the corps member to learn about how her transition has been going and whether she’d yet spied the local bison she’d dreamed roamed the fields of Kansas when she first moved.

“I went to a school where ‘journalism is dying,’ and as a journalism major in that environment, I often was told ‘good luck with that,” Lugli recounted. For her, journalism has always been about public service, and Report for America made this a reality.

Moving from Massachusetts to Kansas—at a time when the country was slowly opening up—was still a challenge, a bit of an adventure, definitely stressful, and not something Lugli would recommend. She was moving by herself and even signed a lease after only being able to do a virtual tour of the apartment.

Her saving grace: there were already other Report for America corps members in the city. Sarah Spicer, a second year corps member who covers climate change for the Wichita Eagle, and Megan Stringer, also a second year, covers workers and employment.

“I slid into their DMs, reaching out for friends or journalism mentors, and they have been more than welcoming,” Lugli shared. Spicer drove Lugli to pick up her car and stayed with her for three hours as she completed paperwork. And her second week in town, they all hung out and the chemistry was instant. Lugli calls them her “journalism friends, Report for America friends, and plain friends.”

From left to right, Rafael Garcia, Megan Stringer, Sarah Spicer, Stefania Lugli and Celia Hack at brunch in Wichita, Kansas. Courtesy of Stefania Lugli.

Within 12 hours of knowing each other, she exclaimed, they drove to Kanopolis State Park and spent the day there. Lugli joked that she’s asked Spicer more than once to go see bison, too.

Lugli isn’t alone in her newsroom. Together with two other corps members, Celia Hack and Rafael Garcia, they are the Wichita Beacon’s first three full-time employees. The Wichita Beacon is a sister newsroom of The Kansas City Beacon, which is also a Report for America partner newsroom.

During this interview, she’s actually working out of a cafe, sitting across from Hack—a perk of the flexible work environment, Lugli explained. They also have access to the Wichita Community Foundation’s Community News Lab, a neutral gathering space for Wichita Journalism Collaborative partners as well as a testing ground for collective technology usage.

I asked Lugli if having several corps members in one city gets competitive.

“Not at all. This is a news desert and our beats are all so different,” she explained. When it came to shaping the corps members’ beats at the Beacon, her newsroom held listening sessions to learn about what the community actually needs.

In her first month on the job, Lugli has been meeting community members, faith-based leaders, advocacy groups, etc., and doing beat mapping exercises with founder and publisher Kelsey Ryan, and Jennifer Hack Wolf, audience development manager.

Lugli describes her transition as “a loving approach that is very collaborative. I didn’t expect to be so intellectually taken care of. I feel like I’m part of something revolutionary.” In addition to the training Lugli and her peers received from Report for America, she explains that her new co-workers have keyed her on important Kansas history—like the rivalry with neighboring state,Missouri.

And, relentless in her questioning like a true journalist, Lugli continues to ask when she will get to see bison.

Stefania Lugli can be reached at stefania@thebeacon.media or follow her on Twitter.

An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified Kelsey Ryan as an editor and The Wichita Beacon as an extension of The Kansas City Beacon. We regret these errors. Kelsey Ryan is the founder and publisher, and The Wichita Beacon is a sister newsroom of The Kansas City Beacon.