Former journalist still tells stories

By Liz Allen
Online Reporter Project

Whether you are a traditional journalist or a writer in another field, it’s critical to give voice to the voiceless.

That was Linda Espenshade’s message at the Pennsylvania Women’s Press Association awards luncheon on Saturday during the Pennsylvania Press Conference.

Espenshade, a former PWPA president, was laid off from her feature-writing job at the Intelligencer Journal when the morning paper merged with the afternoon paper, the New Era, in 2009. The company is now called LNP.

Espenshade quickly landed on her feet when she was hired as a writer for the Mennonite Central Committee’s magazine about worldwide ministries. At the newspaper, she had written features about refugees and Spanish-speaking groups in Lancaster. “That got me interested in the places they came from. My interest in international news was already growing.”

For her work, Espenshade has visited 12 countries, including Bangladesh, where she met a young woman she identifies only by her first name, Dipu, to protect her. Dipu had been forced to become a sex-trade worker at age 13 to help her impoverished mother and sister. She earned the equivalent of $4.20 a night.

Eventually, Dipu escaped from a man who had held her captive in a hole in a cemetery for two weeks. She entered an MCC program that provides vocational training, life skills and reading and writing classes to former sex-trade workers.

“I hope telling stories like that hopefully stirs some compassion in our readers,” Espenshade said.

She quoted Steve Buttry, a journalist who was the keynote speaker at the 2012 Keystone Awards. Buttry, who is now a professor at Louisiana State University, said: “The voiceless have a voice. A journalist’s job is to amplify it.”

She also borrowed the words of Aly Colon, the John S. and James L. Knight Chair in Journalism Ethics at Washington and Lee University. “We need to walk the streets of our communities. We need to see people. We need to hear them. We need to hear their voices,” said Colon, according to Espenshade.

She challenged journalists to use stories to bring polarized communities together.

“I am no longer a journalist but I am still a storyteller,” Espenshade said. And she’s still learning to tell stories. She is working on her master’s degree in non-fiction at Johns Hopkins University.

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