WBEZ reporter María Inés Zamudio wins 2020 Cecilia Vaisman Award for Multimedia Reporters


Graphic by Angeli Mittal

WBEZ reporter María Inés Zamudio received the 2020 Cecilia Vaisman Award for Multimedia Reporters in recognition of her reporting on Hispanic and Latinx communities.

William Clark, Reporter

WBEZ reporter María Inés Zamudio was recently named this year’s recipient of the Cecilia Vaisman Award for Multimedia Reporters. 

The award, gifted by the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, recognizes multimedia journalists who have shed light on issues affecting Hispanic and Latinx communities. Medill Dean and Prof. Charles Whitaker and Medill Prof. Mei-Ling Hopgood recognized Zamudio in a virtual ceremony Thursday. 

Zamudio reports for WBEZ’s race, class and communities team, often focusing on issues of immigration, deportation and policing. Before working at WBEZ, she worked as an investigative reporter at American Public Media, Memphis Commercial Appeal and Chicago Reporter magazine.

“María’s amazing work is certainly in the spirit of the insightful and illuminating journalism that Cecilia was so devoted to producing and teaching,” Whitaker said at the ceremony. 

Whitaker said Zamudio was selected for the award because her reporting allows listeners to better understand Latinx communities and the challenges they face.

In 2014, Zamudio and her Latino USA podcast team received a Peabody Award for their coverage of Central American migrants crossing through Mexico to reach the U.S. Zamudio’s contribution to this project focused on gender violence, discrimination and harassment women migrants faced on their journeys. 

Zamudio said her reporting draws on her own identity as a Mexican American woman who immigrated to the U.S. when she was 11 years old. She said her experience makes her conscious of the complexities of immigrant communities’ relationships with the media.

“She puts a lot of thought into her stories,” Natalie Moore, one of Zamudio’s coworkers at WBEZ, said. “She’s able to spot out stories that some of us in the newsroom wouldn’t necessarily see.”

Listeners at the ceremony asked Zamudio how she approached reporting on trauma and building trust with  communities that often feel misunderstood by the media. Zamudio said her relationship with her mother, a trauma survivor, taught her “compassion and resilience.” She said she hopes to bring understanding and empathy to the historically marginalized communities that she covers.

Audio reporting, Zamudio said, has a unique ability to capture intimate moments, which cannot be translated into print. She recalled a piece where she included a clip of a conversation between women practicing their English, imagining their futures in the U.S. and joking around on the floor of a migrant shelter. 

“It’s just this really beautiful moment that I couldn’t have done, I couldn’t have explained it, I couldn’t have conveyed the sentiment in print,” she said.

Cecilia Vaisman, the award’s namesake, had a passion for stories about Latin America and Latinx people, Zamudio said. A former Medill associate professor and NAHJ member, Vaisman helped establish a bilingual reporting and storytelling course and worked to launch the journalism residency program in Argentina.

Before her death in 2015, Vaisman worked as a journalist covering stories in the U.S. and various Latin American countries. Vaisman received two Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards for reporting on social justice and human rights and worked as an associate professor at Medill. Like Zamudio, Vaisman worked at WBEZ for a portion of her career.

“Getting Cecilia’s award really was… emotional for me,” Zamudio said. “I’m trying to continue the work that she had been doing for decades.”

Vaisman’s husband, Gary Marx, congratulated Zamudio at the ceremony.

“I can think of no one more worthy of this award than you,” Marx said. “Like (Cecilia), you often cover grim topics — violence, poverty, racial injustice, to name a few. But I come away as a listener thinking that this reporter believes that our very imperfect nation can and will do better, that yes, there is promise, and there is hope.”

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Twitter: @willsclark01

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