In a city without a local news source for a long time, Cicero now has a nonprofit bilingual 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 don’t just provide news and updates on what’s happening; we’re really trying to build a community around our news,” said Irene Rómulo, one of the three co-founders of Cicero Independiente and its director of development and community engagement.
To adapt to the needs of its readers, Cicero Independiente reports news in Spanish and English. As its name suggests, Cicero Independiente’s primary coverage area is Cicero, although when it can, the outlet also covers Berwyn.
Cicero Independiente launched in 2019 as an independent, volunteer-run media outlet. It has since incorporated as a worker-led nonprofit with two paid employees: 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 journalism, including Rómulo. She started out as an organizer. Her introduction to the world of news came through the City Bureau, a Chicago-based nonprofit newsroom.
“It wasn’t until I did my journalism fellowship with the City Bureau that I started learning about journalism and how I could use my organizing skills to really create an organization that is focused on the needs of a bilingual community,” Rómulo said.
Neither of the co-founders had run a business before either. They worked with a legal clinic to determine an operating structure for Independent Cicero. Instead of a CEO, Cicero Independent has a steering committee made up of its three co-founders and volunteers who have been in the middle since its launch.
The steering committee intends to plan for the future of the publication by developing a strong infrastructure on which to grow and be able to pay people well for their work, while building strong relationships based on trust in Cicero and Berwyn. Growth for growth’s sake is not the goal.
They are also investing in that future and in the future of bilingual journalism through the Cicero Independiente Paid Journalism Fellowship Program. Previous fellows from the first cycle of the program in 2020 are also part of the steering committee. This year’s scholarship recipients are an intergenerational group made up of young people who speak only Spanish and are bilingual.
Cicero Independiente is the only media outlet dedicated specifically to Cicero, according to Rómulo, and they expected government officials to be reluctant to share information. That has proven true and difficult, but the Cicero Independent team is not deterred by efforts to block transparency.
“We don’t stop doing our reports,” Rómulo said. “We just do it even more.”