We are excited to announce that Carolina Cuellar has joined the Arizona Luminaria team as our newest reporter based in Tucson. 

For more than a decade now, Southern Arizona has been losing local journalists at an alarming rate. It’s gotten to the point where our communities can’t find the information they need. 

“I’m looking forward to working with an organization that recognizes the many flaws in the journalism industry and is actively working to address them,” Carolina says. “Additionally, I can’t wait to work in a majority women-led and -driven team where I feel my perspective and experience are valued.”

Hiring Carolina grows the base of reporters here doing more of the important work you have told us is missing in our news ecosystem — deep, nuanced, solutions-focused reporting that starts with people. Carolina joins Arizona Luminaria reporter John Washington and Becky Pallack, Luminaria’s co-founder and operations executive, in covering Tucson and Southern Arizona.

“From my first conversation with Carolina, I sensed that she is a powerhouse for local journalism that serves, centers and empowers our communities,” said Dianna Náñez, executive editor and co-founder of Luminaria. “These values matter at Arizona Luminaria as we grow with our communities’ support, launching a new stage that allows us to dig into more issues you care about.”

Carolina emigrated from Colombia and grew up in Stockton, California. She majored in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz where she worked in a vaccine lab for two years. After graduating, she worked for two more years in a protein engineering lab. 

While getting a master’s degree in science communication, she worked for a local newspaper and fell in love with community-centered journalism. 

“I liked how close you get with the community and how actionable your coverage becomes. It’s a good way to enact change,” Carolina says. “That’s where I found my drive.”

As a Spanish speaker, she was also driven by the shortage of bilingual journalists in mainstream coverage. 

“My intention from the beginning was to do some sort of work to help people —especially people who are typically ignored — in any field,” Carolina says. “The reason I think journalism fills that need is because it is something that you don’t do unless you love it. It is something where you really have to care about the people you are writing for.” 

Upon graduating she joined Report for America and worked for Texas Public Radio in the Rio Grande Valley, four counties in the southernmost tip of Texas.

Carolina covered border communities, immigration and abortion in the state for Texas Public Radio, the Texas Newsroom and NPR. She also received a grant from the Pulitzer Center to write a series about colonias — informal subdivisions along the border that lack infrastructure and experience high levels of poverty.

“I hope readers are as thrilled as I am to meet a bilingual Latina journalist who is as caring as she is courageous about challenging our journalism industry to be more responsible to the people who trust us with their stories, as well as trust us to hold power to account,” Dianna said. “It’s also an exciting time for our team to work with Carolina to find more ways to make news media organizations more accountable to and healthy for journalists, especially those who have long been underrepresented and underpaid in traditional Arizona and national newsrooms.”

Carolina is already out getting to know the community and quickly discovered that the culture and character here are strong. “Tucson is very Tucson,” she says. 

“I hope to really connect with the community so I can produce stories that reflect what the public wants and says they need,” Carolina says.

Carolina has a tabby cat best friend named Croissant. In her downtime, she’s a serial hobbyist, a hiker and loves learning.

Please join us in giving Carolina a big bienvenidos and welcome to Tucson. Share your story ideas or hiking tips with her at ccuellar@azluminaria.org.

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Irene is an audience development expert and obsessed with reader-first journalism. She is a former Arizona Daily Star editor and was co-founder of #ThisIsTucson and led that team until July 2021. She is...