Shining the Light On Injustices Others Ignore

February 1, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

I was just 22 when I started my journalism career with Eastern Group Publications and I feel fortunate that EGP gave me the opportunity to become a voice for the community at such a young age.

Former EGP reporter Nancy Martinez, (pictured) was recognized by New America Media for Outstanding Coverage of the Environment.

Over the next several years I would report on a myriad of stories and issues, from city budgets to teacher cuts, innovative school programs, elections and recalls, community and park cleanups, developments in the Montebello Hills, good government reforms in Vernon and the slaying of an often controversial Bell Gardens mayor by his wife.

There were stories about crime, the friendly game of loteria at the Bell Gardens Senior Center, a heavy metal mariachi band, and the anger of residents in East Los Angeles who feared another transportation project would tear apart their community.

But it was reporting on the now-shuttered Exide plant in Vernon that had contaminated nearby communities with toxic chemicals that truly made a difference in how I viewed community news.

EGP had already been reporting on this issue for years before I arrived on the scene. It had already established itself as a voice for the voiceless, highlighting an environmental disaster that had yet to be recognized by state officials.

My coverage of the ongoing issues caused by the acid-lead battery recycling plant is what I am most proud of. The article that has meant the most to me, and made the biggest impact on my career, is one that compared the disparities in the state’s response to the Exide contamination in the mostly blue-collared communities on the eastside and its response to the Aliso Canyon gas leak in the more affluent Porter Ranch.

The article served as a powerful juxtaposition of the two catastrophes, catching the attention of the area’s elected officials who had for the most part done little to respond to the Exide disaster, instead telling residents they didn’t have the power or the governor would not talk to them. Faced with the reality of the terrible double standard when it came to protecting working class Latinos, their constituents, they were at long last compelled to do something to respond to the growing anger over the disparity painfully detailed in black and white.

Eventually, the major media outlets did pick up the story, never crediting EGP, which had been reporting on the issue for more than a decade. But the community knew EGP was there from the beginning, long before the cameras showed up.

After four years of reporting on Exide, I had become somewhat of an expert on the issue, which allowed me to create this narrative. I was at first hesitant to call myself an Exide expert, but my editor, Gloria Alvarez, repeatedly reminded me that my years of coverage had given me a unique perspective and insight into the issue. Unlike major media outlets, I had spoken to countless residents over the years, attended dozens of community meetings and public hearings, and reported the stories that could only be told by someone who was truly in touch with the community.

I am thankful that my editor encouraged me to ask the critical questions that elevated my reporting.

It was this encouragement that led me to ask camera-ready local, state and congressional elected officials— gathered at Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights to celebrate the state’s long overdue clean up plan with the community — why they had not come together sooner like they had that day to demand action on behalf of their constituents. The unsatisfactory response: someone else had dropped the ball.

By the time I turned 26, I had interviewed a long list of powerful elected officials who were forced to answer for Exide. I was invited to provide commentary on radio stations, based on my reporting, and served as a panelist alongside one of those officials in question to discuss air quality issues.

I know EGP’s coverage of Exide made a difference in the ongoing battle of this environmental injustice. I realized this when a local activist group recognized me for serving as a voice for the community. A statewide coalition of ethnic media outlets soon followed with their own recognition, awarding EGP first place for outstanding coverage of the environment for our coverage of the Exide environmental disaster.

EGP has always been a voice for east, northeast and southeast Los Angeles County communities. I’m proud to have had my name on the pages of its newspapers.

Nancy Martinez is an Interactive Communications Officer with the City of Torrance, where she is charged with sending time-sensitive information to the public. She reported for EGP between 2012-2017. Her extensive coverage on Exide garnered her community recognition and an award for outstanding coverage of the environment by New America Media. 

EGP’s Core Values Will Live On

February 1, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Everything comes to an end, the saying goes. And I guess that’s true. But in thinking back to the days I was a fresh-out-of-college reporter working for Eastern Group Publications, there are some things about this newspaper chain — and how it was run by the Sanchez family— that I hope don’t ever end.

Raul Vasquez grew up in Boyle Heights in an immigrant family, and earned a degree in history from UC Santa Cruz before working as a writer and assistant editor for Eastern Group Publications in the early 2000s. He now lives in Milwaukee with his family and continues to work in the communications field.

If this really turns out to be the final issue of Eastern Group after 72 years of consecutive publishing, what should live on are the core values that drove its editorial direction since 1979, when Dolores Sanchez bought it.

Civility. Giving a voice to the voiceless. Fairness. Protecting children and the elderly. Truth. These are just some of the core values that drove how Eastern Group was run as a company, and what it stood for editorially. I know because from 2000 to 2004, I formed part of the editorial staff.

To get an insight into the mind of Owner and Publisher Dolores Sanchez, you would just have to read the paper’s editorial page.

On Wednesdays (deadline day), us reporters and designers were running around like chickens without heads trying to wrap up our sections. Meanwhile, Dolores sat in the quiet of her office, with her reading glasses hanging over her nose, as she wrote the week’s editorial, which would run at the top of page 2.

Whether it was standing up for the rights of children to have a good education, shedding light on the plight of the city’s homeless, demanding transparent and clean government from local officials, pleading for a sensible resolution to the immigration issue, or endorsing candidates for an upcoming local election — you could always be sure that Dolores completed the editorial column with the utmost seriousness and professionalism.

“One of the responsibilities a newspaper must take seriously is the endorsement of candidates for public office,” she wrote in one editorial column in November 2001. “It’s at times an uncomfortable position to be in, since oftentimes those we do not endorse are candidates we have worked with in the past and are good people…”

Decisions needed to be made, however, and they needed to be made for the good of the community, not one or two individuals. This idea permeated throughout the pages of the newspaper, decade after decade.

The masthead in the days I worked for Eastern Group carried the words of Abraham Lincoln: “That government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.” As it happened, the events on the morning of September 11, 2001, shook the country to its core, and more than any other event, challenged the essence of Lincoln’s words.

As I take a fresh look at Dolores’ editorial from September 13, 2001, I am reminded of the tempered wisdom that drove the newspaper forward.

“It would be simple but wrong for us to degenerate into a country seeking revenge against innocent people because of their color, religion or ethnicity; only then can these terrorists claim victory over us,” the editorial stated. “For ourselves, we at Eastern Group Publications have decided to continue with publishing our special 16 de Septiembre edition as a testimony to the love of independence and respect for the rights of others this day commemorates, and as a tribute to those who lost their lives or loved ones in Tuesday’s despicable acts.”

Dolores and her husband, Associate Publisher Jonathan Sanchez, believed that a free press was one of the pillars of a fair and democratic society. As a reporter, you could tackle just about any newsworthy subject so long as you did it fairly and accurately.

On a personal level, Eastern Group was the first newspaper to give me a regular writing job. I was extremely lucky because it allowed me to cover the community and region I grew up in. During those years, I discovered wonderful things about my community I would never have known otherwise, and it allowed me to explore and tackle some of the ills I saw as well.

Today, I no longer write for a newspaper, and I live far away from California. While I’m saddened to know that other young and aspiring journalists won’t have the opportunity I had, I also know that as long as I live, and wherever it is that I do write, I will carry forward the core values I learned at Eastern Group Publications, so that these may live on.

Raul Vasquez grew up in Boyle Heights in an immigrant family, and earned a degree in history from UC Santa Cruz before working as a writer and assistant editor for Eastern Group Publications in the early 2000s. He now lives in Milwaukee with his family and continues to work in the communications field.

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