From being shot with rubber bullets during an investigation of the Contra War to receiving threats from drug cartel authorities while covering local government corruption in Mexico, renowned Nicaraguan-American correspondent Tifani Roberts has constantly gone above and beyond in her decades-long pursuit of truth and justice.
On Tuesday, March 31, American Nicaraguan School students and Eye of the Tiger writers had the opportunity to converse with Roberts through an initiative led by Andrea Martínez ‘20. As part of her Senior Capstone Project, Martínez decided to organize a series of talks connecting professionals from diverse fields to members of the ANS community. The objective is to allow students to have the chance to solidify their vocational aspirations, as well as ease their transition into career life.
Originally, Martínez’ talks were scheduled to be in-person; however, taking into consideration the current COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of social distancing, and ANS’ implementation of online classes through its Distance Learning Plan, she devised a contingency plan and converted her physical panels into virtual ones.
The talk with Roberts was scheduled to be held from 1 to 2 p.m. during the Journalism class period through Google Meets, yet due to the enthusiasm of all participants, it lasted over an hour.
The talk consisted of an introduction from the special guest, and later transitioned into a question and answer panel, where Roberts responded to multiple inquiries from students. The event was open to all members of the ANS community, but was targeted mainly towards those in the Journalism class, where many have expressed an interest in journalism as a future career.
Roberts is an award-winning reporter currently affiliated with Univision, yet her groundbreaking freelance work has also captivated vast audiences. She has traveled all over the world for her career, but has focused the majority of her journalistic work around Latin America and the U.S. She has been awarded many accolades for her stories, among these: an IRE Award (2012), a Peabody Award (2012) and four National Emmy Awards (2014, 2016, 2017, 2019).
Initially, however, Roberts had not intended to become a journalist.
In fact, she stated in the introductory portion of the talk that at first she had wanted to become an engineer, but realized it wasn’t her true calling after an experience working as a translator for American field correspondents covering the Contra War in Nicaragua.
Through that immersion opportunity, Roberts discovered that she found journalistic work to be truly thrilling. Even though she was injured by rubber bullets during her trip and suffered many near-death experiences in conflict-ridden Nicaragua, she realized that she thoroughly enjoyed delving deep into compelling stories. She understood the risks, and was willing to take them in order to promote truth and transparency, a purpose she found to be fulfilling.
Upon returning to the United States, Roberts dropped out from college shortly before she was scheduled to receive her bachelor’s degree in engineering. Instead, years later, she went to another institution to complete her degree in communications.
“I was bored,” Roberts confessed about engineering. “And communications made me feel alive. It was interesting, and it is more so today. Back then, it wasn’t so defined … Now, it’s more structured, recognized, and it is a fusion of so many things. Communications is so broad that you can have access to so many areas to explore … I went into television, but there are many ways you could go with it.”
Nevertheless, she affirmed that the analytical skills she gained as a prospective engineer have been very helpful in her work as a reporter. Roberts highlighted the interdisciplinary nature of journalism, and stated that versatility is a key characteristic of an effective journalist.
“Always expect anything,” she said.
Roberts emphasized in her introduction that her success in the field of journalism has been a result of a plethora of things, but chiefly, her grit and genuine passion for her work.
She stated that in all career fields one must be both interested and willing to work hard to achieve much. In journalism, specifically, she highlighted the importance of all roles when it came to delivering a good story to an audience.
For instance, she told students that at Univision, the outstanding collaboration of all individuals affiliated with the media company was critical—from anchors to producers to digital designers to writers to researchers. Everyone had to do their best in their own job; otherwise, they could adversely affect the news station’s overall performance.
Furthermore, Roberts emphasized the importance of open-mindedness.
“The best reporters that I have encountered, the best people that I know, are all individuals who listen,” Roberts said. “Truly listening is so important. When people call me, when people reach out to me, I always answer … You have to be accessible.”
Roberts stated that she is always open to receiving stories and pieces of news from anybody regardless of their medium, whether it is a phone call, an email or a message on social media. She said that the most intriguing stories could come from the most unexpected places.
She cited a notable example of the benefits such an open and assertive attitude has had on her journalistic career: the story which allowed her to earn her most recent Emmy.
Roberts was awarded this prestigious accolade by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for her investigation of a massacre led by the U.S. Drug and Enforcement Agency (DEA) against Miskito indigenous peoples living in the Mosquito Coast of Honduras, and its subsequent cover-up.
She was informed of this event years after it had occurred by a local activist through social media, who mentioned that they were frustrated by the Honduran government’s inability to provide justice for the victims. Though slightly skeptical, Roberts took an interest in the story, traveled to the location of the murders, and delved into it.
After months’ worth of investigation, Roberts was not only able to confirm that the massacre had truly occurred, but also had video evidence to prove it.
The DEA had been in the Mosquito Coast to shut down illegal cocaine operations, but had committed a variety of human rights violations in the process, including the murder of several unarmed Miskitos. However, in reports to government authorities, they covered up such actions, and labeled the civilians as hostile drug traffickers. The publishing of Roberts’ piece gained much attention, and helped launch a federal investigation into the matter.
During the question and answer session, ANS students and Eye of the Tiger writers had many queries for Roberts. For instance, Daniela Moya ‘21 asked Roberts if she had ever been in a dangerous situation before due to her career, and how she’d felt during that moment. This was followed by a query by aspiring political reporter Luiselena Gutiérrez ‘20, who was eager to learn about the greatest challenges she has faced in her career. Valentina García ‘21 added that she was interested in knowing what stories covered by Roberts have been most impactful to her. Min Ji Kwak ‘20 asked the award-winning reporter what characteristics a good journalist should have.
Overall, Roberts inspired ANS students with her passion for journalism, as well as her ongoing commitment to combat lies and misinformation through her pieces. She encouraged all students to contribute to the sharing of news and ideas, and to take advantage of the advent of innovative twenty-first century technology.
“A good journalist is a good storyteller,” said Roberts. “And today, anybody can become one.”
Journalism has changed much in the past few decades, a fact acknowledged by Roberts herself. Though she mentioned that much of this progress has been positive, she also did not neglect to recognize the negative connotation journalism has received in recent years, especially due to widespread hostile rhetoric and partisan skepticism.
Yet she emphasized that in an era of ‘fake news,’ in an era where the credibility of journalistic work has been undermined, belittled and questioned, it is more important than ever to defend and promote truth, transparency and justice. Despite the many obstacles a journalist may face, such as physical threats, censorship or harassment, it is critical that they stay resilient, fearless and full of integrity—the world depended on it.
If you would like to listen to the whole conversation, as well as learn Roberts’ fascinating responses to the mentioned queries, you can email Journalism teacher Mrs. Lisa Lippay ([email protected]), Eye of the Tiger editor-in-chief Wei-Ting Shih ([email protected]) or ANS senior Andrea Martínez ([email protected]).