Committed, Passionate Journalist Remembered

Elaine Rivera

Elaine Rivera is interviewed in 2011 about The Bronx Journal Website, a project she oversaw with another professor at Lehman College. (Screen shot photo from TheBronxJournal.com)

Elaine Rivera, a veteran bilingual journalist who taught at Lehman College and worked for a range of media outlets including WNYC radio, The Washington Post, Time magazine, New York Newsday, El Diario-La Prensa and the Akron Beacon Journal in her native Cleveland, was found dead at her home in the Bronx on Saturday. She was 54.

Her brother, Randy Rivera, told El Diario that she was suffering from cirrhosis and the illness had worsened in the last few weeks.

Elaine Rivera, “a Puerto Rican from Ohio,” as she would describe herself, is being remembered in obituaries published by the varied outlets she worked for and in social media and blogs by the many journalists who were her colleagues in a career spanning over three decades.

In a tribute, WNYC reported that Rivera spent much of her time at the radio station from 2006 to 2009 covering “Eliot Spitzer’s race for the New York governor’s office in 2006 and Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential campaign in 2008.” But that her journalistic passion was far away from the hallways of power.

“She could walk the halls of Albany or City Hall and get politicians to open up,” WNYC’s Enterprise Editor Karen Frillmann said. “But she was most interested talking to the people who live and die by what happens in the halls of power. Prison reform, teen suicide, domestic abuse were some of the topics she covered. She was passionate, smart and had a wicked sense of humor.” […]

Before coming to WNYC, Rivera had worked as a reporter at The Washington PostTime magazine, and New York Newsday, covering a wide variety of topics, including immigration, the crash of TWA Flight 800, and the police shooting of Amadou Diallo. She also contributed to the award-winning Frontline documentary, “Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero” and the Life magazine photo project, “Faces of Ground Zero.”

Rivera’s friend Rose Arce, a senior producer at CNN who was a young reporter with her at New York Newsday in the early 1990s, posted a photo of Rivera on Facebook:

This is the Elaine Rivera I will always remember, a determined smile, a zest for life, an anger fast directed at injustice and a thoughtful and generous human spirit. If all journalists worked so tirelessly on behalf of the voiceless, my profession might lift us all to a better place.

Rivera left WNYC in 2009 to teach journalism at CUNY’s Lehman College in the Bronx, where she devoted herself to a diverse multilingual student body. In 2011, she co-launched The Bronx Journal, a “very Bronx-centric” website that publishes the work of Lehman journalism students, she said in an interview about the project.

“A lot of people have an image of the Bronx that goes back to the 1970s, the whole stereotype of the Bronx is burning,” she said at the time. “Well, the Bronx is going through a major transformation right now, in this point in time, and there’s a lot of things that we would like to capture regarding that transformation.”

Richard Prince’s column “Journal-isms,” published by the Maynard Institute described some of the other issues Rivera’s work tackled over the years:

At El Diario/La Prensa, Rivera wrote about the teen suicide rate among Latinas. At Time, where she worked from 1995 to 2001, Rivera reported on the case of Elisa Izquierdo, a 6-year-old victim of child abuse, whose death in New York became a symbol of the nation’s “deeply flawed child-welfare system,” in the words of the magazine.

While Rivera’s work was serious and she cared about giving a voice to the voiceless, she also had a wonderful sense of humor that defined her to friends and colleagues, including her co-workers at WNYC. The station said in its obituary:

Elaine’s humor was wide-ranging, and she greeted much of the rough-and-tumble of local news with a hearty laugh. In 2009, she posted a news release from the state comptroller’s office on the WNYC News Blog under the slug, “Best. Headline. Ever.” The headline: “State Wasting Millions on Dental Services for Patients with No Teeth.”

“She told great stories and—most importantly—was able to laugh at herself,” recalled a former WNYC colleague of hers, Beth Fertig. “My favorite word she taught me was bochinche, Spanish for ‘gossip,’ and we’d greet each other at work by asking, ‘Got any bochinche?'”

A friend from her tenure at Time magazine recalled Rivera’s love of a good time and a good story in a post on her blog, Claudia’s Surf City:

Elaine was a party person. She always brought the party hats, whether it was a birthday party—which she adored—or New Year’s or Fourth of July. Confetti, sparklers, flags, balloons, bought at the 99-cent store. Her stories, too, made her the life of the party. One favorite was about the time she was staying over at a friend’s apartment and, mistaking the hall door for the bathroom door, locked herself out of the apartment nude in the middle of the night. Wrapping herself in a rug, she got on the elevator to go downstairs to call her friend, who had slept through the pounding on his door. The elevator got stuck in the lobby. Elaine pressed the emergency button and a woman over the intercom said there was nothing she could do. Elaine, of course, asked her name. “Tookie, Tookie, I’m begging you!” wailed Elaine. “Please call my friend. I’m standing in the lobby in the middle of the night in a rug!”

Elaine loved being surrounded by celebration and friends, of whom she had an inordinate number. She was always trying to mix them, with varying degrees of success. Well, we’re mixed now, along with her devastated family from Cleveland, in love and in loss.

Rivera is survived by her father, Juan Rivera, of Cleveland, four surviving siblings and six nieces and nephews. Her body will be flown home to Cleveland for burial. A memorial service is being planned in New York in the next few weeks.

(Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Rivera worked at The Plain Dealer in her native Cleveland. She worked instead at the Akron Beacon Journal.)

One Comment

  1. Elaine is survived by four surviving siblings, not five. One sister, three brothers. Sending them energy and condolences.

    — julie

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