In a town long without a local news source, Cicero now has a bilingual nonprofit digital newsroom launched by a trio of young founders focused on building community in their city and in their primary language.

Cicero Independiente delivers news in a bilingual format to Cicero, where 82.3% of residents speak a language other than English at home.

“We’re not just providing news and updates about what’s going on; we’re really trying to build community around our news,” said Irene Romulo, one of Cicero Independiente’s three co-founders and its development and community engagement director.

To accommodate the needs of its readers, Cicero Independiente reports news in Spanish and English. As its name would suggest, Cicero Independiente’s primary area of coverage is Cicero though when able, the outlet covers Berwyn too.

Cicero Independiente was launched in 2019 as a volunteer-led independent news outlet. It has since been incorporated as a worker-led non-profit with two paid staffers: Romulo and co-founder April Alonzo, who serves as digital editor.

That growth has come with challenges, of course. Not everyone who works with Cicero Independiente comes from a journalism background, including Romulo. She started as an organizer. Her introduction to the news world came by way of City Bureau, a Chicago-based non-profit newsroom.

“It wasn’t until I did my reporting fellowship with City Bureau that I started learning about journalism and how I could use my organizing skills to really create an organization that centers the needs of a bilingual community,” Romulo said.

None of the co-founders had run a business before, either. They worked with a legal clinic to determine an operational structure for Cicero Independiente. In lieu of an executive director, Cicero Independiente has a steering committee composed of its three co-founders and volunteers who have been with the outlet since its launch.

The steering committee is intentional in planning for the publication’s future by developing a sturdy infrastructure on which to grow and to be able to pay people well for their work, while building strong, trust-based relationships in Cicero and Berwyn. Growth for growth’s sake is not the objective.

They are also investing in that future and that of bilingual journalism through Cicero Independiente’s paid reporting fellowship program. Previous fellows from the program’s first cycle in 2020 also serve on the steering committee. This year’s fellows are an intergenerational group made up of Spanish-only speakers and bilingual young people.

Cicero Independiente is the only news outlet specifically dedicated to Cicero, according to Romulo, and they expected government officials would be reluctant to share information. That has proved true and difficult, but the team at Cicero Independiente isn’t put off by the efforts to block transparency.

“We don’t stop doing our reporting,” Romulo said. “We just do it even more.”

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