LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- A month ago, the disappearance of mariachi bands in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles could have gone unreported. Boyle Heights has been known for its Mariachi Plaza, where bands show off their talents in hopes that passers-by will hire them for parties and other events.
But the bands have fallen victim to the economic downturn, reports Karissa Reynoso, youth reporter for the Boyle Heights Beat/El Pulso de Boyle Heights, the brand new local newspaper for the little-covered neighborhood.
The bilingual quarterly publication is a collaborative venture of the Spanish-language daily, La Opinión, and the University of Southern California’s (USC) Annenberg School of Journalism and Communication. Reported and written by youth from the neighborhood, the first issue of Boyle Heights Beat, a 20-page tabloid, was released in early June.
Pedro Rojas, executive editor of La Opinión, cofounded the new publication with USC’s Michelle Levander, founding director of Annenberg’s California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships. The endowment funds the new paper.
La Opinión has been a resource for first-generation Spanish speakers in the United States. The daily reaches a half million readers a day, 87 percent of whom are Spanish-speaking Latinos.
Boyle Heights Beat differs from La Opinión in that the paper is staffed by youth, is highly localized and is bilingual.
Rojas and Levander, along with several other journalists from La Opinión, edit the newspaper and advise the team of youth writers. Around 22,000 homes in the Boyle Heights neighborhood receive the paper.
Boyle Heights Beat is the latest in La Opinión’s efforts to reach out to English-speaking Latinos. Under Rojas’s direction, the paper began translating its lead editorial each day into English.
Rojas said that the 14 students working on the Boyle Heights Beat are part of the demographic La Opinión wants to reach.
Boyle Heights has been identified by the California Endowment as one of the 14 partner communities that will receive the bulk of funds for the Endowment’s Building Healthy Communities initiative. These communities all face challenges, but also have strong histories of civic activism.
“The newspaper itself is a kind of health intervention,” Levander said. She added, “This is a community that doesn’t really have its own voice, even though it’s a community of 100,000 people.”
The paper’s staff members hope that the news they put out will help balance often-negative mainstream coverage of their neighborhood. Angel Lizarraga, a high school senior who is one of the paper’s photographers, noted that mainstream coverage of his neighborhood is distinctly one-sided. “There’s a lot more going on here,” he said
Lizarraga said he is especially interested in exploring the neighborhood’s vibrant arts scene.
Although the students chose their own topics for the articles in the first issue, they held a community meeting to discuss the next issue.
Community leaders, activists, and teachers participated in discussing the direction of the paper and pitched their own ideas.
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