Tag Archives: journalism

Artist Feature: Erica Hellerstein

Erica Hellerstein is a Bay Area-based journalist who we’ve known since attending high school together back in the day in Berkeley. She has contributed to and published stories from around the globe, from Central California to Chile. She highlights the importance of Reflection in her craft as the ability to find universal themes within circumstantial details of a story. She exhibits this approach in a current piece on cervical cancer in South Texas, exploring central ideas of womanhood and resistance. Throughout our dialogue she discusses various other projects including an investigative narrative piece exploring the use of the abortion pill misoprostol, and a radio documentary about Curanderas in the Bay Area. We’re excited to have an engaging talk with this craftswoman tough on her grind! 

Erica Hellerstein

Reflection is the process of distillation. It’s the opposite of reflex, of the reactive tweet or the fiery text. Reflection forces me unpack my impulses. As a journalist, it’s probably one of the most important and satisfying muscles that I can exercise.

– Erica Hellerstein

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

EH: I was born and raised in the Bay Area, in a trendy, club-friendly corner of the East Bay called Kensington. After High School, I moved to the East Coast , where I stayed for several years. It was terrible. Everything was grey and frigid and even the wind howled more despairingly. Now, I’m happy to report that I’m finally back in California, wrapping up a graduate program at UC Berkeley.

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

EH: I like this question because I’m sure I would have had answered it very differently had you thrown it my way a year and a half ago. I think that reflection and response will mean different things to me at different times. Right now, I am in a transitional period, and have genuinely no idea what I’ll be doing five months down the road — which makes the process of mindful reflection difficult. Sometimes it’s easy for me to get bogged down in the uncertainties and transience of my life, and this maddening tendency I have to beat myself up over matters I can’t control. When I’m constantly on the go, sometimes I forget to stop, look around, and relish the volatility of it all.

So for me, reflection is the process of distillation. It’s the opposite of reflex, of the reactive tweet or the fiery text. Reflection forces me unpack my impulses. As a journalist, it’s probably one of the most important and satisfying muscles that I can exercise. Without a process of reflection, my pieces wouldn’t have depth or universality. For me, it takes careful reflection and contemplation of the human spirit, to understand the stories that really pack punches. The ones that transcend time, place, identity, gender, nationalism, and religion — these are the pieces that endure and connect people across virtual bridges. Certainly it’s my aspiration as a writer and a journalist to tell universal stories. I think that reflection is the vantage point through which I can suspend my complicated identity and simply observe.

Now response, that’s easier for me. As you can probably tell, I’ve always been a talker. To me response feels natural, it’s what I do. Response means telling a story. It’s reflection digested — and I love to eat.

How does your writing fit in with that definition?

EH: Sometimes I view writing as a birthing process. I’ve created some deeply embarrassing babies — think angst-ridden college memoirs and romanticized articles about revolution in Latin America — so it’s hard for me to go back  to stories I’ve already produced and analyze them through the prism of reflection and response. Instead, I’m going to flip this question around and talk to you about a piece I’m working on that embodies this definition. Just to keep you on your toes, Peter.

So right now I’m writing a story about incredibly high cervical cancer rates in South Texas. It sounds like a terribly depressing story, and in some ways, it is. Or it would have been if I hadn’t reflected on the real story, which isn’t a doom-and-gloom piece about cancer. The real story is about women. And resistance. About a fascinating and inspiring group of of educators who are driving from slum to slum in South Texas, teaching women about their bodies and how to prevent cervical cancer and other reproductive health problems in spite of family planning clinic closures.

There are certainly elements of this story that are unsettling, raw, and unfair. There’s a community that has been forgotten by our health care system, and a group of women who are suffering because of that. There are children who are losing their mothers because they can’t afford to get regular check-ups, and there are families who are moving back to dangerous border towns in Mexico because they can’t get their health care needs met here.

But this is exactly where reaction and response came in. From afar, I thought it would be an incredibly sad and terrible story to work on. But when I got to South Texas and shadowed the health educators, driving from home to home on dusty, unpaved streets, I realized that my preconceived notions about the community and situation were completely wrong. It wasn’t depressing. The women couldn’t change the cards that they were dealt, but they were absolutely changing the ways that they played the hand. They were responding, reacting. The health situation there is still dire but they don’t think about it in a fatalistic way.  It was humbling to for  me realize just how wrong I was about the situation. Those are the moments that make me want to continue doing this work — when I realize how much I have left to learn. 

What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

EH: I’m working on a lot of projects right now. First off is my master’s thesis, which is a long, investigative narrative piece about the use of the (in some countries, illegal) abortion pill, misoprostol, in South Texas, where all of the abortion clinics have shut down. In many states in the US, it’s not legal to take this pill to induce your own abortion. It’s really a profile of this pill — an exposition of its lifeline. It has a fascinating history, it was discovered by women in Brazil in the ’80s to induce abortions and became wildly popular. My story follows the pill around the world and is rooted in Texas, where there are these parts of the state without abortion clinics that have basically turned into these pro Roe v. Wade wastelands. It’s rumored that misoprostol is sold illegally in South Texas flea markets, and I went undercover at the markets in search of the pill. You’ll have to read the piece to see what ultimately ended up happening.

I’m also working on a 30-minute radio documentary about Mexican folk healers, or Curanderas, in the Bay Area. There’s a really vibrant movement of female healers in the Bay that have all coalesced together in recent years. Nobody quite knows how it happened, but my documentary explores this group of healers and how they integrate their ancient practices with the modern. It also follows the story of a young woman who recently found out that her grandmother was a Curandera in Mexico, and is sort of exploring her own past by learning more about this tradition.

Who or what inspires you?

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Artist Feature: Zach Mack

Zach Mack is a renaissance man from the Bay Area who currently lives in Oakland. Recently deciding to plunge full-time in pursuit of his goals in radio and media, Zach has been producing news stories for various local public radio stations, hosting/creating two standout original weekly podcasts — Dino Pants Radio and The Four Man Rotation — and performing with an improv troupe at the Magic Jester Theater. Throughout our dialogue, Zach drops gems of knowledge accrued through working hard to forward his creative medium. Zach is making moves out here in multiple realms of craft surrounding his interest in radio, and it’s dope that he took a moment to lend his voice to the Collective!

Dino Pants Radio - Zach & Josh

Sometimes its important to just STOP… clear your head, assess your feelings and then act accordingly. Trust your gut but don’t be afraid to seek out advice from people wiser than yourself.

– Zach Mack

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

ZM: Born and raised in the Bay Area. A California kid to the core, currently living in Oakland. Its a great city that apparently draws a lot of comparisons to Brooklyn. Would love to live in real Brooklyn at some point though.

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

ZM: Sometimes its important to just stop… clear your head, assess your feelings and then act accordingly. Trust your gut but don’t be afraid to seek out advice from people wiser than yourself. Last year I made the decision to quit my job to pursue this radio-media thing full time. Its been scary, fun, soul crushing, and inspiring all in one; ultimately I know it was the right decision. That response came after much reflection.

I’m still figuring out what works for me but trying to avoid those safe decisions that you know are comfortable in the moment but that you’ll regret in the long term because they don’t challenge or forward you. I recently received some great creative advice; simply put “Always be making.”

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PODCAST: Hella Oaklandish Scamming Grandmas (February 22, 2014)

“Our friend Mr. Todd stops by to showcase his new radio piece Hella Oaklandish and talk about everything from scamming grandmas to bad business proposals.”


What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

ZM: Right now I’m immersing myself into the world of radio by helping produce news stories for a couple public radio stations. While journalism is pretty new to me I realize it’s a necessary skill for making good radio, even when it’s not totally news based. Alongside that, I am hosting and creating two weekly podcasts. Dino Pants Radio, a fun show with music and banter, as well as a newly formed sports show for the everyday person titled The Four Man Rotation.

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PODCAST: The NFL and the N-word (March 19, 2014)

“The NFL looks to ban the N* word. Is this move progressive or misguided?”


Also, I recently began performing in an improv troupe through Magic Jester Theatre in Oakland. What started as a way to sharpen my wit for radio has turned into a full fledged interest. I find improv to be one of the most life applicable activities I’ve ever taken part in.

Who or what inspires you?

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Artist Feature: Elena Rosillo

Elena Rosillo muestra que el poder de los medios de comunicación nuevos se puede utilizar para dar a conocer los que tienen algo para decir. En su propio blog, The Rosillo’s Rover, ha escrito sobre el ocio Madrileño que le interesa y le parece que debe recibir más atención.  También aprende más sobre el oficio de investigación como parte del equipo que produce el diario Madrileño La Guía del Ocio mientras quiere seguir con su carrera universitaria con un doctorado. En la entrevista debajo aprendemos sobre el cruce del Reflexión y Respuesta y investigación, el mundo de creativos en que vive y escribe esta periodista Madrileña, y varios temas más.

Elena Rosillo demonstrates how the power of new communication technologies can be used to share and promote those who have something to say. In her personal blog The Rosillo’s Rover, Elena has written about events and nightlife in Madrid that are both interesting and deserving of more attention. She also continues to learn more about the craft of journalism as part of the Madrid-based lifestyle journal La Guía del Ocio while seeking to further her education with a PhD in the field. In the interview below we learn about the intersection of Reflection and Response, the world of creatives in which Elena lives and writes about, and several other topics.

Elena Rosillo

Mi reflexión acerca de aquello que me rodea y donde vivo es lo que me ha llevado, como respuesta, a hacer lo que hago y actuar como actúo. Se trata de un feedback con tus propias circunstancias e intereses, que también afecta a aquellos que me rodean.

My reflection involves things that happen around me, and where I live this has brought me, as a response, to do what I do and act how I act. [Reflection] serves as a “feedback loop” including one’s own circumstances and interests which, in turn, affects what surrounds them.

– Elena Rosillo

Para empezar con algunos puntos básicas, de dónde vienes? Dónde estás?

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

ER: Vengo de ese pedazo de la España en que nací, cuna del requiebro y del chotis. De Madrid, mi ciudad y la ciudad de mis padres y abuelos, y de aquellos con los que convivo y a los que retrato con mi trabajo.

ER: I come from this part of Spain, where I was born, [which is also] the birthplace of “requiebro y chotis”. From Madrid – my city, the city of my parents and grandparents, and of those with whom I live and those who I feature in my work.

Que quiere decir “reflexión,” y “respuesta,” para ti?

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

ER: La reflexión forma una parte muy estrecha de mi personalidad. Todos mis amigos me dicen que pienso demasiado, aunque no creo que eso sea necesariamente algo malo. La respuesta es aquello que se consigue con la reflexión. Mi reflexión acerca de aquello que me rodea y donde vivo es lo que me ha llevado, como respuesta, a hacer lo que hago y actuar como actúo. Se trata de un feedback con tus propias circunstancias e intereses, que también afecta a aquellos que me rodean.

ER: Reflection forms a small part of my personality. All of my friends tell me that I think too much, although I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. Response is what you achieve along with reflection. My reflection involves things that happen around me, and where I live this has brought me, as a response, to do what I do and act how I act. [Reflection] serves as a “feedback loop” including one’s own circumstances and interests which, in turn, affects what surrounds them.

Cómo se mete tu trabajo del blog en esta definición?

How does your work with your blog fit in with that definition?

ER: The Rosillo´s Rover es un blog de cultura y ocio alternativo en Madrid (y lo que surja, claro). Decidí crearlo a raíz de mi primera visita al famoso open mic de la Triskel Tavern (en Tribunal). Allí conocí a muchas personas que trabajaban y compartían su talento. Gran parte de esas personas jamás llegarán a ser retratadas en un medio de comunicación generalista. Pero eso no significa que carezcan de talento, ni que sean menos válidas que aquellas que sí aparecen en estos mismos medios. Más bien al contrario, en aquella ocasión creí ver una fuente de talento e ilusión (y amistad) que me hizo desear dar a conocer al mundo a estas personas.

ER: The Rosillo’s Rover is a blog about culture and alternative entertainment in Madrid (and whatever else might come up along with that, of course). I decided to start this blog as a result of my first visit to the famous Open Mic at Triskel Tavern (in Tribunal, Madrid). There I met a lot of people who were working and sharing their talent. Most of these people will never been featured in mainstream media, but that doesn’t mean that they lack talent, nor that they’re less valid than those that are in the media. On the contrary, they’re often much better, and at the time I believed I saw a wealth of talent and excitement (and friendship) that made me want to share these people [and their work] with the world.

ER: Esa fue mi reflexión, y mi respuesta vino con la creación del blog, con el objetivo de dar a conocer esa circunstancia, ese open mic. Tampoco quiero aparentar lo que no soy; mi blog es, simplemente, otra ventana más abierta al mundo a través de internet. Pero me gustaría pensar que esta pequeña ventana sirve para que alguien que previamente no conociera el trabajo de estos artistas anónimos, de repente sepa de su existencia. Que lea sus nombres y vea sus caras, y escuche su música, o vea sus cuadros, o lea sus libros, o se anime a acudir a sus actuaciones. Me parece una forma humilde y modesta de reivindicar el talento que se esconde, precisamente, en las calles de esta ciudad que tanto me fascina.

ER: That was my reflection, and my response came with creating my blog, with the objective of sharing this circumstance, that open mic. I don’t want to seem like something I’m not; [so] my blog is, simply, another open window to the world through the internet. But I’d like to think that this small window serves a purpose such that someone who didn’t know about these anonymous artists previously, suddenly knows about their existence. That they read their names, see their faces, listen to their music, look at their paintings, read their books, or get inspired to attend their performances. To me it seems like a humble and modest form of reclaiming the talent that’s concealed, precisely, in the streets of this city that fascinates me so.

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