More Than Just News, A Public Service in Print

February 1, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

As one of the top news markets in the nation, Los Angeles has no shortage of quality journalism, provided in many platforms and in many languages. For decades, Eastern Group Publications, publishing original bylines in both English and Spanish, has been among the newspaper groups that has made its own immeasurable contribution to journalism and to the communities it has covered.

Unincorporated East Los Angeles, Boyle Heights, Bell Gardens, and smaller neighborhoods in Northeast Los Angeles are some of the communities I covered during my time at EGP. Elizabeth Chou, who currently works at LA Daily News, was my co-worker at EGP back then. She covered Monterey Park, Montebello, Commerce and Vernon. We reported on a gamut of news worthy events, from local to national public policies affecting our specific communities, individual city councils, neighborhood councils, contentious elections, activism, crimes and centenarian birthday parties. We spent hundreds of hours interviewing, researching, fact checking, writing and copyediting. Chou additionally prepared the newspaper layout.

Gloria Angelina Castillo is a former journalism professional. She has a Master’s Degree from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of California, San Diego, where she majored in Ethnic Studies.

Mia Valerie Juarez was just in high school when she began interning at EGP. The East LA native started off by helping to find local events to include in EGP’s Community Calendar but soon enough she was conducting interviews and writing news articles. The 20-something-year-old is now a television news reporter and producer for a national news affiliate in Nebraska.

Several EGP journalists have continued their careers in the news industry. Some have gone on to work for major Spanish language publications, like La Opinion, and you can find the bylines of others, including past interns, in English language newspapers across the country, or on internet blogs and news sites.

Though EGP has been a good launching pad for aspiring journalists, its most important impact has been to simply give a voice to several historically lower-income, under-served communities.

Besides covering harder news, simply by being in the community, EGP often found positive stories and examples of kindness that showed the dignity in written-off communities. (Example:  the efforts to revive the historic Maravilla Handball Courts).

EGP has documented historically significant events from the Chicano Movement to where we are today with younger generations moving forward empowering concepts and fiercely dispelling stereotypes.

In recent years, news organizations have begun making their original reporting available translated into the other language. The Boyle Heights Beat, a literary program founded by USC Annenberg School of Journalism, is now providing similar hyperlocal bilingual coverage in Boyle Heights.

Nonetheless, for decades, it’s been EGP’s hyperlocal coverage that has filled the news void left by larger news organizations. EGP’s newspapers were distributed free and to people’s doorsteps for years.

During my time there, we provided detailed coverage of Los Angeles Unified School Districts’ Public School Choice reform, the East Los Angeles Cityhood movement, the Exide lead contamination, “Dreamers” bravely participating in non-violent protests before President Obama signed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and the list goes on.

What other newspaper would so painstakingly take on the task of outlining and summarizing all the applications to take over operations at some of the region’s most underperforming schools?

EGP was a perfect fit for me. I wanted to report in both English and Spanish. I wanted readers to access the same information and “be on the same page” so to speak. Because I grew up in a Spanish-speaking home watching Spanish-language news broadcasts, as I got older I began to notice that sometimes there was a significant disparity in English versus Spanish-language news. For example, if there was a recently published study on the economy and immigrants, the Spanish-language news might highlight the beneficial contribution of immigrants while the English-language news might focus on the negative. The result, I suppose, was immigrants feeling empowered while anti-immigrant sentiment was spurred in different homes.

We worked with other ethnic media organizations as well. I wrote an article on Adult Day Health Centers closing due to state budget cuts. In 2013, I earned an award for a three-part bilingual series on Autism in the Latino and monolingual community in our coverage area.

I felt strongly that my work at EGP was a public service. Unfortunately, working as a journalist in underserved communities does not qualify under the category of “public service” for student loan forgiveness programs, otherwise, things may have worked out differently for me.

I was often overwhelmed at EGP, I felt a tremendous responsibility to cover everything because there was so much going on and if I didn’t cover it, maybe no one would.

I’m truly grateful to the Sanchez family for their support all those years, and for their sacrifices to keep the newspaper afloat while others buckled with the economy. I hope that if new owner/leadership is found for EGP, they will be as passionate about reporting on the always evolving complexity of immigrants and Americans in these communities.

Gloria Angelina Castillo is a former journalism professional. She has a Master’s Degree from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of California, San Diego, where she majored in Ethnic Studies.

The Eastside’s Record Keeper

February 1, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

As someone who grew up in East LA in the 1960s and 70s, and worked as a newspaper boy first at the East LA Tribune and then the LA Herald Examiner, I grew up with an affinity towards the written word.

I was just entering high school when Los Angeles Times reporter and Spanish language TV anchor Ruben Salazar was killed in 1970, during the Chicano Moratorium. His death motivated me to go on to college and to get into writing. So, I actually began my writing career in 1972 with LA Gente newspaper at UCLA. But to make a long story short, after graduating college, my professional column-writing career got its start at Eastern Group Publications.

I remember EGP most for two of its signature publications: the Eastside Sun and the Mexican-American Sun. Because I had begun as a newspaper boy on the eastside, I could relate to this chain of community newspapers.

I started as a reporter at EGP, but with the support of the newspapers’ owners, Dolores and Jonathan Sanchez, I began to write weekly columns on topics ranging from plans to feed the homeless, graffiti, a softball playing grandmother and efforts to dismantle bilingual education. I wrote about the battle led by East LA and Boyle Heights residents determined to stop a prison being built in their neighborhood, a grassroots effort that succeeded.

Roberto Dr Cintli Rodríguez es profesor en la Universidad de Arizona y autor de Justice: A Question of Race, un libro que narra sus dos juicios de brutalidad policial; Our Sagrada Maíz is Our Mother(Nin Toanantzin Non Centeotl); y coprodujo Amoxtli San Ce Tojuan: un documental sobre orígenes y migraciones.

At that time, I was also assigned to write profiles of everyday people making a difference, new eastside professional organizations and their members, Latinos in public office and in government agencies.

After leaving EGP, I would go on to writing columns for La Opinion for many years, even after I moved to Washington DC, then co-writing a nationally syndicated column with Patria Gonzales for a dozen years for Chronicle Features and later Universal Press Syndicate.

I mention all this because I owe my successful column-writing career to EGP. By the way, nowadays, I still write, though primarily for Truthout’s Public Intellectual Page.

Truthfully, more than to EGP, I owe thanks to the family. Dolores and Jon brought me on board at a low point in my life. I was almost killed in 1979, an experience that led to two trials, the first in 1979 and the second in 1986 — causing seven and a half years of turmoil.

In the first trial, I had to defend myself against charges of trying to kill four Sheriff’s deputies with a camera. I had actually witnessed the brutal beating of a young man and photographed it, and as a result, I ended up in the hospital. After winning that case, I filed a lawsuit and in 1986 won a judgment against the same four deputies. Incidentally, it was civil rights attorney Antonio Rodriguez who  represented me in both cases. I was working at EGP during the second trial and remember well the full support I received from Dolores and Jon.

A small irony is that my lawsuit was actually against the Sheriff’s Department and one of the first assignments I received after it concluded was to interview the Sheriff at the time. He had a lot of bodyguards in his office during the interview; neither he nor I brought up my trials. Yeah, there was a big elephant in the room during that interview.

As we all know, EGP wasn’t just 9, then 11 and now 6 community newspapers. They were a Raza-owned bilingual chain of newspapers covering the eastside of LA; essentially the newspapers of record when it came to things on the eastside. That was their role because in those days the major Southern California media outlets didn’t deem the eastside worthy of a bureau. In other words, we weren’t worthy of coverage and, in effect, did not exist.

I can honestly say I have only good memories of my time at EGP. The same holds true for my memories of the Sanchez family.

Now, as a university professor and researcher, I believe the existence of EGP is worthy of study. I wish I could do more than study or comment about EGP. I wish I could buy EGP and keep the papers going because it has always served our communities well, and personally, I will always have ink in my veins.

At the moment, I can’t really do that and I’m hoping someone with the right resources will step in to keep it going.

I want to end by sharing an EGP-related story. It was kind of funny, but it wasn’t.

In between my two trials, I got very close to a group from Guatemala, here in Los Angeles. Most of them were political refugees and some of them had actually been tortured and eventually received political asylum. Those were dangerous times, there were even rumors of death squad activity in Southern California.

I don’t remember what the issue was at the time, but the group asked me if I would go to Guatemala and meet with community leaders, etc, since they could not return to their home country. They figured it would be easy since I was a journalist, and didn’t understand when I told them that I couldn’t go.

You see, my business card said EGP, the same initials of one of the primary rebel groups called… actually I forget what they were called. I explained that if I were to be stopped and asked to produce ID to prove I was a journalist, my business card with the EGP initials probably would have sealed my doom. So, in a way, it was funny and that’s why I never went to Guatemala. It’s interesting what will pop into your mind, like this, one of my [tangential] EGP stories.

I do want to thank the Sanchez family. I recognize EGP itself as a family, part of a much larger family and I’m very proud to have been brought into it and to continue to be part of it.

Roberto Dr Cintli Rodríguez is a professor at the University of Arizona and author of Justice: A Question of Race, a book that chronicles his two police brutality trials; Our Sacred Maíz is Our Mother (Nin Toanantzin Non Centeotl); and co-produced: Amoxtli San Ce Tojuan: a documentary on origins and migrations.

Tackling the Big and Small Stories

February 1, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

I worked at Eastern Group Publications from 2008 until 2012, and I feel lucky that this was my first gig as a full-time reporter. There weren’t many newspapers like it left, ones that were rooted in the communities they cover and that are owned by a civically-minded family for whom this isn’t just a business, but a labor of love.

When I first got there, I was like any other cub reporter — I wanted to chase and tell stories, have a byline and toss around journalism cliches like “cub reporter.” But it was a good place to develop my own sense of what journalism was, and why I wanted to do it. And I was figuring it out under the guidance of editors and publishers who were knowledgeable about the communities we covered, had a good feel for the local political world, and most importantly, had a sense of purpose for what they were doing.

The Sanchez family that founded it tackled big stories, but it was their consistent coverage of communities usually ignored by larger newspapers that stood out to me. You did not need a major scandal, a shooting or a social or environmental injustice as reasons for covering these areas.

Elizabeth Chou went on to report on Los Angeles City Hall government and politics, first with City News Service, and now the Los Angeles Daily News since the end of 2016.

I think it was important to the family to provide this coverage, because in reality there has historically been a vibrant civic life in these communities worth reporting on, in which people fight for and feel entitled to quality education for their children, well-paying and safe jobs and a high quality of life. And the family also wanted to tell the varied, everyday and unique stories that contribute nuance to the one-dimensional picture that is often painted when there is only occasional interest in an area by bigger outlets. This meant working to reflect the wide range of socio-economic statuses, values, experiences and political views that can be found in communities that are often given shorthand labels like “immigrant,” “ethnic,” “working class” or “underserved.”

During my time there, I and one other reporter split coverage of the range of communities under the Eastern Group banner. Gloria Angelina Castillo covered East Los Angeles and northeast Los Angeles, while also translating my stories into Spanish. I was assigned to cover a mix of traditional suburban cities like Monterey Park and Montebello, and other less typical municipalities like City of Commerce and Vernon that were largely industrial but still had a residential population. I also did layout for the print newspaper, and updated the website and social media feeds.

Some of the more memorable stories were about efforts by residents of Commerce to combat pollution from a major railyard, which they said was one of the causes for high rates of cancer in their community, on top of the other harmful toxins and pollution emanating from the industrial businesses nearby.

I also chronicled an unusual investigation into voter-fraud in the city Vernon, which only had about 100 residents. Previous to that, there was a failed attempt to disincorporate the city by state lawmakers who alleged it was being run by crooks.

And I covered the years of political instability and infighting in Montebello, as city council members grappled with budget troubles and scrutiny over whether there was criminal mismanagement of funds.

In covering many of these areas, I often found that despite many thinking that there is a lack of civic engagement, there were always usually people in these communities who did care and were trying in whatever way they knew how to stay informed and on top of what their local government was up to. They do it because cities provide basic services, police and fire, and parks that ultimately determine their quality of life, and other local government bodies can have equally significant effect on their lives. But those efforts can be that much harder without a partner, such as a local newspaper, that worked to help convey important information to their readers, prior to things going horribly wrong. Eastern Group Publications did its part in trying to maintain consistent coverage of these areas, in that sense, filling in gaps where other outlets may not have had the staffing or time to cover.

 

Elizabeth Chou went on to report on Los Angeles City Hall government and politics, first with City News Service, and now the Los Angeles Daily News since the end of 2016.

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