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IRE hires first director of diversity and inclusion

Investigative Reporters and Editors is proud to announce its first director of diversity and inclusion: trainer and veteran journalist Francisco Vara-Orta.

Vara-Orta joined the IRE staff in February 2019 as a training director. While working as a trainer, he has conducted sessions on managing data and investigative reporting for journalists across the United States and internationally. 

The creation of this position is part of the steps IRE is taking to become a more inclusive space.

“Francisco has been instrumental in developing and advancing IRE’s goal of helping its members better reflect the communities they serve and helping newsrooms be more inclusive and welcoming,” IRE Executive Director Diana R. Fuentes said. “In his new role, Francisco will broaden that work as well as provide us with essential, informed guidance as IRE itself continues to move toward becoming a more diverse and welcoming organization.”

Vara-Orta has already started reviewing IRE’s extensive curricula through an equity lens, rewriting some courses and creating new ones to expand opportunities for historically underrepresented communities. He also will be bolstering IRE’s relationships with partner organizations dedicated to more inclusive work and offering support to journalists working to be more culturally competent in their reporting, hiring and retention approaches.

"All of us who care about a more fair and just world share in our mission at IRE to make our work — and work environments — better and more inclusive to those who feel they haven't always had a seat at the table,” Vara-Orta said. 

Vara-Orta brings nearly two decades of newsroom experience to this role, starting out at a bilingual community newspaper in his South Texas hometown of San Antonio, and reporting throughout the country coast to coast from the Los Angeles Times to the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting to Education Week in D.C., among others. He received his master’s degree at the University of Missouri where his master’s project focused on DBEI in newsroom management. He also served on the board of the Education Writers Association, where he helped create a strategic plan for the organization with an emphasis on DBEI. An openly gay Chicano, Vara-Orta attended a Hispanic Serving Institution, St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, and has long worked with and covered historically marginalized communities.

Most recently, he continued his training through participation in the PowerShift Summit through the Freedom Forum and is a member of this year's News Leaders Association Emerging Leaders Institute for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

“I owe a lot to my mentors and ancestors whose shoulders I am built upon and want to do my part to help pay it forward by helping our members feel empowered in doing culturally competent work,” Vara-Orta said. “IRE is committed to helping our colleagues improve their newsroom environments and provide nuanced, thoughtful coverage for all communities, including those historically marginalized, to whom I have dedicated my whole career to making sure they know they aren't forgotten."

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