“5 questions with” is a series we created so you can learn more about Signal Cleveland’s beat reporters.
Stephanie Casanova, who covered criminal justice and breaking news at the Chicago Tribune, is a bilingual journalist with a passion for storytelling that is inclusive and reflects the diversity of the communities she covers. She has been a reporter and copy editor for local newspapers in South Dakota, Kansas and Arizona. Stephanie is also a Maynard 200 alumni, a Maynard Institute for Journalism Education training program for journalists of color that focuses on making newsrooms more equitable, diverse and anti-racist.
How did you get your start in this work?
I’ve always loved reading and talking. Naturally, growing up that meant I was always telling stories and listening to stories. When I had to decide what to study in college, journalism just made sense. By sophomore year I was working at the college paper and loved it so much I just stuck with it.
Why did you join Signal Cleveland?
What drew me to Signal Cleveland is its mission to center community both in our storytelling and by providing information to community members as we learn it.
After covering public safety and criminal justice for a few years, I found myself looking for the people already doing the work of making communities safer and trying to highlight that in the stories I wrote. I think it’s also important to include research and existing resources that make communities safer so that our communities are equipped with the information they need to thrive.
I’ve also learned the importance of approaching the people I talk to with empathy. Especially when reporting on criminal justice, I’m often talking to people about some of the worst moments of their lives. It’s inhumane to approach this work only to extract information from people. Trauma-informed reporting, building trust and understanding how difficult it can be for people to share their stories is key to thoughtfully covering public safety and criminal justice.
All of these priorities aligned with Signal Cleveland’s mission, so it felt like the perfect next step for my career.
What’s your favorite story you’ve worked on so far? Or What’s your favorite story you’ve ever done?
At Signal: My favorite story I’ve worked on so far is my latest story exploring what the transfer of youth to adult court looks like in Cuyahoga County. I learned a lot about the process – called a bindover – while reporting that story. It’s a topic community members are starting to pay more attention to after Greater Cleveland Congregations held a public meeting earlier this month, and it’s an issue I plan to follow and continue to share the stories of people impacted by this law.
Overall: I’ve written a LOT of stories in the last eight years, so I’m probably forgetting some important ones as I think back. But a recent favorite story I wrote related to criminal justice was about mothers in Cook County Jail in Chicago. I was able to go into the jail just before Mother’s Day and watch women read a children’s book while being video recorded. The recordings were sent to their children. I also interviewed a few of the women, many of whom were in jail on drug-related charges. The story humanized people we often easily forget about when they’re incarcerated. And I think it highlighted the complexities of how the criminal justice system affects more than just the person who is arrested.
What do you want to work on/cover in 2023? Or What would you like to learn more about in Cleveland?
I want to learn more about Clevelanders who organize to keep their communities safe, whether that’s spending time with violence interrupters, learning more about how after-school programs and rec centers provide youth a safe place, or how people are repurposing vacant lots in neglected neighborhoods.
I want to learn and write about what resources are available to help prevent people from being incarcerated, what resources exist to support people released from jail or prison so they don’t end up back in the system. I want to highlight how violence affects far more people than those directly involved in conflicts. I want to highlight injustices and inequities in the criminal justice system and hold accountable the people who are expected to keep communities safe.
Do you have a side hustle? (hobbies count!)
I enjoy reading, buying books – yes, those are two separate hobbies – cooking and baking. When it’s warm out, I like spending time in nature, hiking with my dog or lying in a hammock in the woods. I like visiting new restaurants or coffee shops (I’ll take any and all recommendations for places to check out in Cleveland). In more recent years, I’ve started to enjoy theater shows. And I really enjoy traveling and going to concerts.
None of these make me any extra money–they’re all just hobbies.