Best Of Decibel 2021: 'It’s Kinda Stressful'

By KC Cruz | Monday, December 27th 2021

In March of 2021, the Decibel team announced we were shifting our reporting focus to Del Valle. In the nine months since, we’ve covered a range of stories on everything from traffic and transportation to tamales. While we’re already looking ahead to new stories to share in 2022, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on some of our favorite projects from this year and the residents we’ve been lucky enough to meet along the way. Decibel Executive Editor Samantha Guzman spoke with Visual Journalist KC Cruz about their favorite story and explain why it involved sitting in heavy traffic.

Samantha Guzman You are the newest addition to the Decibel team. You just started working with us this summer. Can you tell us a little bit about how your experience has been so far?

KC Cruz It's been fantastic. Honestly, it's been a dream to be working with this team. Not only is everyone incredible, but also the mission itself is just something I've always dreamed of working for. So despite any challenges that are coming as a new college graduate, it's amazing.

SG Ok, so let's get to the best of, what has been your favorite story that you've worked on this year?

KC My favorite story that I've worked on this year has been our story that we did on the Ross Road traffic in Del Valle. It was called [“It's Kind of Stressful”]( "Decibel Post to the story "It's Kind Of Stressful""), which is funny considering it was about traffic, and I think a lot of people would say it's more than kind of stressful. And so what we did is we just spoke to some Del Valle parents, especially because they're the ones that encounter the everyday traffic that leaves them stranded for an hour at a time in frustration. And we just wanted to give them the opportunity to feel heard.

SG People may not know this, but our method of storytelling here at Decibel, we always promise to listen first and then go out and do reporting. How did that method of listening help you find this story?

KC A common occurrence at Decibel is hosting listening sessions where we speak to residents and community members in Del Valle specifically this year at least. And we gave them the opportunity to just voice their concerns and stuff that they feel like isn't being talked about enough. And one of those things was traffic. And although it seems like almost anybody could talk about traffic, this was a little bit more personal considering the community is so tight knit and it was once rural and now it's growing.

KC Best-Of Photo 2

Vehicles congest Ross Road in front of Del Valle High School following student dismissal. Although some parents park outside the school hours before school gets out, leaving Ross Road to get home can take hours as well.

So that's how we just decided to take that to the streets and see what really was going on. So I drove out and experienced it for myself, being stuck in traffic for an hour at a time and started asking all these questions of why is it like this, and why hasn't anything been done to fix this? So asking the harder questions for them because they have to go about their busy lives, they don't have time sometimes to interact with officials and stuff like that and find that information. So luckily, the listening session brought us to that.

SG You had your video that you produced for this story, which featured a bunch of folks just sharing their concerns about the school's traffic on Ross Road. But then you also wrote a story to accompany this. How did you approach each of those?

KC So for the video portion of the piece, we did something called voices where we talked to a couple community members, ask them the same questions and see how they all feel and collectively, typically, you'll see a trend in frustration in this case. But the way I approached that was, although you would think about finding community members to talk about how much they hate traffic would be easy, considering the area itself is not really well represented in larger media outlets, they were a little bit hesitant to be interviewed. So I decided to take it to a level where they might feel more comfortable. So I immersed myself into the places they interacted with one another and [in] Del Valle, specifically it’s Facebook groups. So you connect with them there and start this discourse with them to make them feel comfortable. That's how I connected with a couple of mothers and got together through a Zoom like this. And luckily, being in their own setting made them feel comfortable to really express themselves.

And as for the written story, the way I approached it was writing down all the questions that they had or common occurrences that they had been through and just tried to see if this problem was to be fixed, who would it be fixed by? So it was doing research on county jurisdiction and city council members and talking to the city council members that represented the area so that the community members that read this piece know what is being said and what is being promised.

SG So why ultimately did you want to tell this story?

KC I truly just wanted them to feel that there was a starting point of them being heard and giving them the confidence to keep on going and talking to more people. And what I wanted the most from the story. It was never about just getting a story out, but it was about reflecting the community in their own passionate way.

SG What do you hope our audience takes away from this story, whether they watched the video, whether they read your piece, what do you want them to walk away with?

KC What I hope our audience takes away from this story is that as a Del Valle resident or not, that change happens with some form of action and that your action as a community member or a citizen doesn't have to be very ground shaking for you to be heard.

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