Advocating for a Free Press: Meet María Paula Mijares Torres '23
By Christina Papadopoulos '23
June 23, 2021
Shelved between piles of newspapers floating around her childhood home and the constant echo of news radio playing on the car ride to school, an adoration for writing and journalism was cultivated within communication student María Paula Mijares Torres since the moment she began to walk her first steps.
“Ever since I can remember, my dad always bought at least two newspapers a day,” Mijares Torres recounts, reflecting on her childhood in Venezuela. “[My dad’s] a very particular man. He’s an engineer and an economist—nothing to do with journalism, but he admires it a lot and was able to get a job and a full ride scholarship to earn his PhD thanks to newspapers.”
Mijares Torres goes on to reminisce on the mountains of newspapers kept in her family’s home, stacked anywhere they could fit—from chairs, to hallways, to bathrooms. Any surface that could house her father’s passion was quickly occupied, leaving a curious young girl intrigued by the grey groundwood paper filling her home.
“I began to pick up newspapers when I was young. I started in the comics section and moved up to sports, to entertainment, to international and eventually opinion,” explains Mijares Torres, a grin on her face. “I just grew up in that environment. I've been interested in journalism since I was very, very little.”
Today, this adolescent fascination has turned into a future Mijares Torres has fully immersed herself into, manifesting in the form of multiple byline stories at The Philadelphia Inquirer, where she currently works on co-op as a feature reporter covering communities in both English and Spanish.
“It doesn’t feel like work—it feels like a dream,” Mijares Torres remarks. “I’m writing feature pieces for communities. At the beginning, I focused on the Latino community in Philadelphia, because it’s what I’m a part of. It was very nice to serve the community of immigrants in the city.”
Inspired by her networking experience, Mijares Torres conducted a self-search for co-op to acquire this role. At the Inquirer, her duties span anywhere from writing and reporting on articles, to pitching and researching new content ideas. Mijares Torres has also had the opportunity to attend workshops side-by-side with professionals in the industry, learning new skills to embellish not only herself as a job candidate, but her writing as an art form and tool for strengthening voices in different communities.
Mijares Torres’ first byline feature tells the story of Philibros, a group in South Philly promoting readership in Spanish for the city’s immigrant community. The organization creates tiny libraries made of crates, called huacalibreros, and places them in local businesses in areas popular to the Latinx community.
Going into her first feature-length assignment at the Inquirer, Mijares Torres didn’t know what to expect. She collected her sources, interviewed key figures, conducted her research and wrote the article, but it wasn’t until the story was published that she realized how meaningful this story was for Philadelphia’s Latinx community.
“A lot of people I interviewed told me how important it was for them to get this article published, because sometimes even people in their own community don’t believe in the work they do to promote culture and readership. But being published in this big medium, the biggest newspaper in the city, gave [Philibros] a lot of credibility and made the community support them and their values even more,” Mijares Torres describes. “It really warmed my heart [to hear] this, and it made me realize I was making an impact, which I really liked.”
Mijares Torres’ experience with writing at Drexel has allowed her to refine her skills, both through her positions with The Triangle and Her Campus at Drexel, and also through her journalism courses. Her work has further been promoted by The Lenfest Institute of Journalism, where she recently received the Lenfest Next Generation Award, a stipend promoting advocacy for journalism.
Though her passion was initially sparked by her father’s flame for the craft, Mijares Torres began to truly realize the power prose holds as she grew into this role of advocacy. She understands just how precious a free press is, drawing on her own experiences as reference.
“I value [journalism] a ton. In a country like this, it’s such a privilege to have a free press. In my country, Venezuela, we don’t have that privilege—but it’s not even supposed to be a privilege. It’s supposed to be a right.”
Mijares Torres explains the current political crisis in Venezuela, noting the totalitarian regime and dictatorship. What started with smaller radio programs being censored turned into TV news channels being shut down, and the newspapers she grew up reading being closed or bought by the government so they could no longer speak out against this authority.
“It’s to the point that my dad cannot buy any newspaper, he cannot read the news, he cannot see news against the government on the TV or radio. It bothered me, seeing how in time his deep passion was deteriorating. To see my household go through that and watch how the government was able to become more corrupt and do whatever they wanted because there were no reporters left with a medium to report on—this inspired me to be a journalist.”
In Mijares Torres’ eyes, situations like these are proof that we need journalism, despite the common misconception that it is dying. Whether in a small town or a big city, news has the power to affect the communities it speaks to, and, as Mijares Torres says, it holds truth to power and makes people, large companies and governments accountable for their actions.
“I realize journalism is not really dying, people are just getting it from different forms. It’s shifting. Print is not as popular as it was 20 to 30 years ago, but people are still getting their news through their phones. Every newspaper now has a website to publish their stories,” says Mijares Torres, with fervency in her tone. “We’re still consuming news and it’s still very necessary. They say that journalism is dying because everyone thinks they can be a journalist—but there’s so much labor that goes into it. Not everyone goes where things happen and reports on them firsthand, or goes the extra mile of looking at files, archives or interviewing people. Now more than ever, with the spread of misinformation of people who do not report accurately, we need more journalism.”