Eliana Perez

by Slade Rand

"Eliana Pérez lives an organized professional life. She seeks structure in her days and accuracy in her writing, and she makes a point of not flaking on plans with friends. For her, it’s all about what she can do with the facts.

That’s what drew Pérez to business reporting. The 31-year-old journalist from Santa Maria, California gets excited at the chance to tell meaningful stories based in good old numbers or statistics. Recently, she’s found a way to share truth about the world by better using economic data. With accurate facts as a tool, she said, people can do great things.

“If you do journalism correctly and you provide the right information, then somebody who can help or do more for a given community will have more ability to step up and do what is needed,” Pérez said.

She'll be interning this summer at American Banker in New York City, covering the stories behind the numbers of the finance world.

Pérez wasn’t always going to be a journalist, however.

In 2011 she earned undergraduate degrees in English Literature and Spanish from UCLA. She grew up passionate about women’s’ rights, immigrant issues and the environment, but it wasn’t until she traveled to Puerto Rico during her junior year of college that she found a way to link her interests to a career.

Her friend started a UCLA chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, which Pérez joined and wrote the newsletter for. Through that group, she applied for and was selected as one of 40 students to attend a conference in Puerto Rico, where she was part of a program she described as a journalism boot camp.

The people she met and stories she heard there sparked something in the young Pérez.

“I had my ‘I should be a journalist’ moment in Puerto Rico,” she said. “I like the amount of people that you can talk to and learn from — and having to be accurate, that can be stressful, but I like to be organized and I like to make sure that everything is in place.”

That idea of order and presentation are key to Pérez's mission of giving her community the facts it needs to know.

“If I’m in that world and I write what’s actually going on, they’ll get a better picture of the story,” she said.

After finishing undergrad Pérez essentially worked for herself, gaining experience in the field writing freelance stories for Los Angeles outlets. She said she covered entertainment news in those five years and worked “odd jobs” to make ends meet while she honed her craft.

At one point, she worked as a medical transcriber at a psychiatrist’s office in the city. Patty Ochoa, now a close friend, helped manage that office when Pérez joined the staff. She said Pérez was initially hired for records needs but quickly became the office’s go-to for any patient reports.

""She ended up doing all the reports for the doctor,” Ochoa said. “I think she was interested in all those stories of what the people were going through.”

Ochoa said the clinic specialized in evaluating immigrants and in worker’s compensation cases following psychological setbacks. She said Pérez had a knack for hearing patients’ stories and communicating what they felt.

“Anything that needs to be justified, she can always figure out a god story, the cause behind and what it is trying to prove,” Ochoa said.

Through it all, the underrepresented minority angle of the stories she covered kept drawing her in.

“I just wanted to keep digging, and then I rarely see economic angles attached to minority stories, and I’m like ‘Why?’ We move the business world too, we move the economy too,” she said.

In 2017, Pérez moved to New York City to chase her career in journalism and attend the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She graduated from the university in 2018 with an MA in Business and Spanish-Language Journalism.

Pérez wants to use her skills as a business reporter to tell truths about minority communities in the United States and to make economic information available to those who need it. She said reporting on the market has shown her the power journalism can have for marginalized groups.

""It just really opens your eyes to what's being covered and what's being done, and I really hope that I can write those types of stories one day,"" Pérez said. ""It's a lot of numbers, but those numbers translate into people's lives."""