Empathetic reporter who dedicates herself to telling untold stories of diverse communities in her journey to Sahan Journal.
by Hannah Vang and Majida Mohamed
During her undergraduate years at the University of St. Thomas, Samantha HoangLong recalls being asked by the university president why there was a need for a multicultural center on campus. HoangLong, now a journalist at Sahan Journal, was frustrated that the administration did not understand the issues impacting her as a student of color at a predominantly white college.
“There was pretty much an incident every single fall,” said HoangLong, who as a student reporter at Tommie Media covered repeated instances of finding the “N” word on bathroom walls and in freshmen dorms.
HoangLong, who now runs Sahan Journal’s audience engagement effort, says she was shaped by her experiences at St. Thomas, and of growing up as a Vietnamese American in a white-centered media environment. HoangLong hopes to tell stories that relate to her experience because communities like hers deserve to be heard – and they matter.
“Being in a position where I can help tell more stories that I grew up with, that drives my work,” HoangLong said.
Her parents are refugees from the Vietnam War who wound up in Savage, a rapidly growing and diversifying exurban community south of the Twin Cities. An encounter in high school with the ThreeSixty Journalism program at University of St. Thomas exposed HoangLong to media, and she wound up at St. Thomas on a scholarship studying journalism.
HoangLong completed internships at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, MinnPost, and FOX 9, where she worked eight months as an online editor. She found an opportunity to tell untold stories of diverse communities. Given a chance to work at Sahan Journal, she jumped for it after graduating.
Sahan is an online media outlet that tells stories of immigrant communities. The St. Paul-based nonprofit, donor-driven digital newsroom was launched in August 2019 by former Star Tribune reporter Mukhtar Ibrahim and employs more than 15 journalists.
She strives to make Sahan the authoritative source for Minnesotans looking for news about communities of color and immigrant communities. HoangLong said the key to her reporting is empathy.
“I really like to be aware, or like, try to see myself in other people’s shoes,” she said. She wants communities and their stories to be accurately represented, with care and nuance.
Earlier in her career, HoangLong often came across news articles involving systemic issues and was disappointed by the lack of opinions from the community affected by those systemic issues.
“The way that things are being covered isn’t necessarily including all voices, especially the marginalized voices,” HoangLong said.
When readers sense that some voices are missing, they can grow frustrated, HoangLong said. It‘s closely related to another problem: Lack of diverse voices in local newsrooms.
“I think a lot of industries deal with that issue, diversity in the workplace,” she said. “And so there have been times where I’m discouraged to be a journalist.”
HoangLong had an early inspiration in a Hmong woman broadcaster in Wisconsin, Bao Vang, who was her mentor in the ThreeSixty program at St. Thomas.
“Knowing her story and having her support me was transformative,” HoangLong said.
Chad Caruthers, executive director of ThreeSixty, said HoangLong and outlets like Sahan are on the leading edge of change in media.
“When we talk about change and better representation in newsrooms and journalism and media, we have a number of examples, Samantha included, who are really being that change, whether they consider themselves changemakers or not,” he said. “What they bring into those newsrooms, to the stories that they share, helps create change and helps change perspectives.”
HoangLong also represents a new generation of journalists who see the press as a catalyst for change. Impact keeps her going, even on tough days.
“What you are doing is important and impactful to the people you’re touching and the communities you are covering,” HoangLong said.
Caruthers said better, deeper reporting of more communities will bring change.
“When you are able to have better broader deeper, more personal reporting on issues that are applicable to all communities, that are all groups that are in your community. To me, that is what part of what creates a good community,” Caruthers said.
HoangLong warns perspective journalists to be ready for the stress and even trauma of covering stories of violence and oppression.
“I definitely had to learn kind of the hard way,” she said. Her advice: “Take care of your mental health.”
In the end, though, she says the work is satisfying: “You get to cover things and put a spotlight on something that’s not being covered. So, there’s a lot of power in writing, and power in telling these stories.”
- Name: Samantha HoangLong
- Hometown: Savage
- Age: 24
- News Organization: Sahan Journal
- Title: Audience Growth Manager
- Years: 2
- Education/School/Major/Degree: Communication and Journalism at University of St. Thomas
- Pets: One cat (his name is Squash)
- Hobbies: Gaming, traveling, going to concerts
- What did you want to be when you were a kid? Singer
- Food: My mom’s homemade pho
- Musician: Taylor Swift
- Travel Destination: Florence, Italy
- Guilty Pleasure: Holiday rom coms
- What should diversity/inclusion look like in our newsrooms in the Twin Cities? Newsrooms should be making an intentional effort to hire and retain diverse leadership and staff. Creating an open, welcoming space for professional and personal growth.
- What should diversity/inclusion look like in our storytelling in the Twin Cities? Telling more stories that represent the experiences of all Minnesotans, especially those who have traditionally been underrepresented. Those stories should include diverse sources and be written with cultural context and nuance.
This story is part of a series produced at ThreeSixty’s 2023 Winter News Team, spotlighting local journalists. Read more stories here.