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Elaine Rivera, 54, Former WNYC Reporter

Sunday, October 27, 2013

→ Update: Information on how to support the Elaine Rivera Scholarship in Journalism at bottom of this page.

Elaine Rivera, a compassionate, funny, incisive journalist who worked at WNYC from 2006 until 2009, has died. She was 54.

Evelyn Hernandez, a longtime friend, confirmed her death and said friends found her Saturday. The cause is unknown, Hernandez said, but it came after a battle with liver disease.

"Elaine Rivera had an enormous heart and a commitment to social justice that was reflected in her illuminating journalism," Hernandez said in an e-mail. "Her voice will be greatly missed."

Rivera came to WNYC after a celebrated career in print journalism at Time magazine and other publications. She spent much of her time at the station covering Eliot Spitzer's race for the New York governor's office in 2006 and Hillary Clinton's failed presidential campaign in 2008. She also reported from the Democratic National Convention that year in Denver. But she was best known, both inside and outside of WNYC, for her street-level reporting and her intimate knowledge of Bronx politics.

She left WNYC in 2009 to teach journalism at Lehman College in the Bronx, part of the City University of New York, where she was on a leave of absence at the time of her death.

Brian Lehrer and Juan Gonzalez Remember Elaine Rivera

"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."

In 2009, Elaine took part in WNYC's "Main Street NYC" project that documented the impact of the national recession on the city's neighborhoods. She drew sharp contrasts between the commercial strip along 161st Street in the Bronx and the glamour of the new $1.5 billion Yankee Stadium that was opening up that spring nearby. While the stadium's boosters had promised it would enliven the entire neighborhood, Rivera noted that the new venue had included so many food and drink options few spectators had reason to leave and patronize local establishments afterwards.

In this video of an appearance from May 7, 2009, on the Brian Lehrer Show, she discussed the Main Street project, beginning at about three minutes in.

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?'"

From left: WNYC's Ilya Marritz, Elaine Rivera, Beth Fertig, Arun Venugopal and Rex Doane.

Another colleague from WNYC, Cindy Rodriguez, wrote in an e-mail: "Elaine was one of the most ethical and honest reporters I know. In this crazy world of New York City journalism, her judgment was impeccable. She was a generous mentor and loving friend."

The New York Times columnist Michael Powell wrote on Twitter: "Terrific, passionate reporter, friend to dispossessed, and funny, wonderful intelligent woman, has left us far too soon."

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 was also active in the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and had served on its board.

Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, she received her B.A. in journalism from Kent State University in 1981.


Support the Elaine Rivera Scholarship in Journalism

Lehman College, where Elaine taught, has set up a fund to help young journalists. Here's how to support the scholarship efforts.

Beth Fertig
Elaine Rivera celebrating at Fred Mogul's wedding
Beth Fertig
Elaine with WNYC friends and colleagues from left: Andrea Bernstein, Cindy Rodriguez and Beth Fertig
Beth Fertig
WNYC friends and colleagues
Kathleen Horan
Elaine with WNYC's Kathleen Horan
Beth Fertig
Elaine with Cindy Rodriguez and Beth Fertig at the Inner Circle Show in 2007
Elaine with Cindy Rodriguez, Kathleen Horan and Beth Fertig at the Inner Circle Show in 2011

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Comments [18]

Tanya Beltram from Bronx, NY

I met Elaine a few years ago over some casual drinks in the Bronx. She took me under her wing when she found out I was a young writer. We discussed American Puerto Rican politics and Womens' Rights. She went as far as sharing her classroom at Lehman College with me, where I met her journalism students. This news is very hard to bear. I will miss you tremendously Elaine. You were a phenomenal-phenomenal woman! It was such an honor knowing you.

Nov. 07 2013 12:46 PM
Karen Barber from Bay Village Ohio

I went to high school with Elaine. She was a funny witty and intelligent young woman. She was authentic and always smiling. I knew she was a reporter in New York, but only in hearing about her death did I learn about her career! She had her roots reporting in our Cleveland John Marshall High School newspaper, "The Interpreter". I am so sorry to hear of Elaine's passing.

Oct. 29 2013 09:21 PM
Marisella Veiga from St. Augustine, Florida

Elaine was a compassionate, generous, intelligent, witty and fun-loving person. She was a talented and committed journalist. We will miss her. Que Dios la guarde. Marisella Veiga

Oct. 29 2013 10:56 AM
Robert Cushing from NYC

I'm so sad to read this. I knew Elaine at Time magazine. She was the rare person who was immediately warm and personable to an underling. She also had a great sense of humor and a great big hearty laugh. And, of course, she was a dedicated journalist who was fighting the good fight.

Condolences to her family and close friends.

Oct. 29 2013 10:51 AM
Michael Tomasky from Washington, DC

I can't even say how terribly sad I am at this news. Elaine was a great person and a great journalist; we all know that old journalism cliche, but Elaine really DID want to comfort the afflicted. I'm sure she was an amazing mentor to her students as well. I last saw her in Denver in 2008, at the convention. There was this little light-rail line on a pedestrian street, and the car was jam-packed, and Elaine flew on, bumped into someone. "You pushy New Yorkers!" I said, and she laughed loud and long, and we went to a nearby hotel bar and spent a good while together catching up. So sad.

Oct. 29 2013 10:03 AM
Richard Bryers from nyc

As a journalist, Elaine had oustanding integrity, smarts and tenacity coupled to her ingrained fairness and common sense. As a friend, she was playful and kind and a treasure to be near.

Oct. 29 2013 09:17 AM
tammerlin drummond from cambridge

Thank you Matthew for this wonderful tribute. elaine and I were friends and colleagues for 20 years. She was an original and I will miss her terribly.

Oct. 28 2013 08:38 PM
Scott Stephens from Alexandria, VA

Elaine was an original. She was passionate, smart, funny and utterly fearless. She was also a wonderful friend, in my case for 32 years. What a loss for her students, her family, the city and the world.

Oct. 28 2013 07:14 PM
Jerry DeMarco from cliffviewpilot.com

Even though we were peers, Elaine was an idol of mine when she worked at New York Newsday -- as awesome a cop reporter as ever lived -- and then a warm, sweet, giving colleague who supported me and provided extremely helpful tips when I taught at Lehman. This is terribly saddening ....

Oct. 28 2013 05:09 PM
Lisa Wager from NYC

In addition to her terrific journalism skills and her wise and unswerving passion for justice,she was a talented and enthusiastic yenta. Generous with her time and ideas about our lives, Elaine was always trying to help her friends in small and large ways. She was the first one to think Bob and I might be a match. Twenty two years and two kids later, Tia Elaine's skills are unassailable... A very sad time for all of us.

Oct. 28 2013 02:57 PM
Amissa Pitter from Yonkers, NY

One of the best professors I had. I'm heartbroken and she will truly be missed. She inspired me so much to be vocal, open, and pushed me to be better in class. Elaine always kept in touch with her students and wanted to see them do well. I remember her always asking me for updates on my internship. She was a lovely person.

Oct. 28 2013 01:55 PM
Jim Carney from Bronx

As a relatively new friend of Elaine's I can say she truly enriched the lives of the people she touched, particularly her students. She was an excellent, no-nonsense journalist who engrained that ethic into her students. She had no patience for fools, but incredible compassion for her students. In her time at Lehman she has made a major difference and helped shape a new generation of urban journalists, who would not have had a shot, without her guidance. Lehman and CUNY's journalism students have suffered a great loss, And I have lost a friend.
Jim Carney

Oct. 28 2013 01:46 PM
Fatima Sesay

Deeply sadden and hurt by the news. As her former student at Lehman, professor Rivera taught me everything I know about journalism. She would say, "Fatima, in order for you to be a journalist, you have to put up your BS meter." I will miss her dearly. R.I.P professor.

Oct. 28 2013 01:07 PM
Margarita Bauza from Detroit, MI

Thanks for writing this story. Heartbreaking but wonderful to hear her voice, which was a truly special, kind and feisty one. Rest in peace muneca. Until we meet again.

Oct. 28 2013 12:31 PM
Patricia Guadalupe from Washington, D.C.

Truly one of the best people, not just one of the best journalists. She was a great friend and always fun to be around. There is far greater darkness in the world today without her.

Oct. 28 2013 12:23 PM
Jon Naso from Princeton NJ

I'm so sad this morning carrying the news of Elaine's passing, but also wistful and smiling inside, just a bit, recalling our time working together at NY Newsday. Lucinda Williams...Wally's on Seventh...Tompkins Square Park...Elaine you lived every day to the fullest and knew how to have fun in this job! A great big hole in my heart today for one of journalism's finest.

Oct. 28 2013 09:39 AM
Susan bogenschild from Brentwood, TN

What a heartbreak. Elaine was a dear friend back when we were both journalism students at Kent State. The friendship continued as we both wound up in Washington, DC, she at The Washington Times, me at NPR. She will be remembered as a sharp, funny, attentive, warm-hearted friend.

Oct. 28 2013 01:09 AM
Annie Shreffler from Boston, MA

What a great write up for Elaine, Matthew. She was so accomplished yet so humble. Such sad news. She was indeed a generous person--the first to loan me her own recording kit when I was an intern, and extending to me an invitation to her apartment to capture in photos her own balcony view of the new Yankee stadium under construction. I admired her commitment to covering the Bronx and aspired to do the same while I lived in New York. What big loss for local journalism and certainly for Lehman.

Oct. 27 2013 11:20 PM

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