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. 

Today We Say Adios and Thank You

February 1, 2018 by · 4 Comments 

When Eastern Group Publications announced last August our intentions to sell the newspaper group, we truly believed there was someone waiting in the wings with the enthusiasm, sense of purpose and wherewithal to continue our tradition of providing the best in local community news for a new generation of readers.

How could there not be, with all the issues confronting our readers’ quality of life, from affordable housing to homelessness, to wages, immigration, public school challenges, traffic, dwindling government services, political corruption, crime and rising taxes and fees on our wallets?

How could there not be, with the president and his followers making a concerted effort to undermine the press by telling Americans that what they read in newspapers and hear on broadcast news is all “fake?”

But after several months of unsuccessfully fielding offers and inquiries, a new torchbearer has not materialized. So, after much contemplation, we mark the end of an era today, with this our final issue.

Publisher Dolores Sanchez bought the newspaper group in 1978, since then, three generations of the Sanchez family have contributed to the newspaper’s storied legacy. Pictured left to right (front row): Arturo Preciado, Bianca Sanchez Preciado, Sarah Sanchez Ramos, Dolores Sanchez, Gloria Sanchez Alvarez; (back row ) Jon Ramos, Marlon Alvarez, Jason Ramos, Rocki Alvarez, Andy Alvarez, Nicolas Alvarez.
(EGP Photo by Fred Zermeno)

Now begins the difficult task of putting it all into perspective. But how do you neatly summarize nearly 40 years of reporting, more than 2,000 weekly issues and over 50,000 pages of newsprint?

The truth is you can’t.

The best we can do is reflect on what has motivated us to keep going all these years, and pick out a few themes that stand out.

It all started with Dolores Sanchez and a small group of local business people — including Cal and Dolores Soto, then owners of the La Quebradita grocery store in East L.A., Roque Olivos of Peru Spices and others who have since passed on. They bought the Eastside Sun and five other newspapers in 1979 to give a voice to the predominately Latino communities where they worked and lived.

They had seen firsthand the inequality in government services, education and public safety in those neighborhoods, and the vibrant culture, hard work and desire to create a better life that flourished despite the obstacles. None of the mainstream media outlets were telling those stories, so they decided to buy the bankrupt Kovner newspapers and report the news from those eastside communities, eventually expanding coverage into southeast L.A.

With her husband Jonathan Sanchez at her side, directing the production and business, Dolores set about filling that mission. Together, the couple built the business into a respected, trusted community institution.

EGP COO Jonathan Sanchez passed away unexpectedly in in December, 2016 (EGP Archives)

Flipping through back issues from those days, we can’t help be struck by the breadth of our coverage and the sinking feeling that “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Our pages are filled with stories on immigration, education, economic inequality, affordable housing, homelessness, the lack of Latinos represented in movies and on television, the disparity in services in low-income communities compared to more affluent areas, all still big problems today.

When EGP started, Jerry Brown was in his first term as governor. The numbers of Latinos elected to local, state and congressional office were few in comparison to what they are today.

We have reported on efforts to increase Latino political power, through protest, voting, citizenship drives, and four U.S. Census counts, each of which presented obstacles to Latinos being counted. We have endorsed candidates along the way who we felt would do a good job of representing the interests of their constituents.

We have written about the changes in local city councils, from elections to an unfortunate pattern of recalls. In many of these cities, the elected officials have no ambition for higher office; they like being the big fish in the small bowl. But that sense of power has at times led to bad, sometimes criminal behavior. It has also led to greater financial stability and growth that has created jobs and improved infrastructure. Our coverage has included efforts to reform government and for greater transparency.

EGP Board Member Michael Sanchez

These pages have published thousands of environmental justice-related stories, from the early days of the Mothers of East L.A. battling to stop a prison from being built in East L.A., to battles to keep a mega-watt, polluting power plant from being built in Vernon and to stop Exide from polluting their homes with toxic chemicals.

We covered the birth of the “green” movement in Commerce, where residents have fought for years to be heard about “cancer clusters” near rail yards, high levels of asthma and other diseases resulting from the large number of diesel-burning trucks traveling through the city. We chronicled the early days of East Yards for Environmental Justice, and their years of work around plans involving efforts to expand the 710 (Long Beach) Freeway.

Hundreds of stories have been published related to the 710 freeway, from East L.A residents saying they are tired of being burdened with the region’s transportation woes, to some cities along the corridor pushing for expansion to reduce polluting traffic near their homes.

Our issues are filled with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of stories chronicling efforts to improve public education and reduce the drop out rate among Latino students in both the Los Angeles Unified School and Montebello Unified School District.

In the early days, there was the fight over busing as a way to desegregate local schools. Today, our schools are just as segregated, and the fight has changed to which is better, segregated charter schools or segregated traditional schools.

There are stories of gang violence, but more importantly, the efforts to combat the violence and the social conditions at the root, such as Father Greg Boyle and Homeboy Industries’ programs to give gang members an alternative to the lifestyle, including job skills and education.

Three generations of the Sanchez family have contributed to EGP, including Deana Sanchez Hagen (left) and Samantha Ramos.

But these pages have also celebrated the many good things going on, from the accomplishments of individuals to the great work of community organizations.

We have shared success stories of the children of immigrants getting full-ride scholarships to some of the country’s most prestigious universities. We told the stories of seniors like Chris Mojica at the Salazar Park Senior Center in East L.A. who have spent years raising money to improve the facility, and to provide hundreds of families year after year with free meals for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

EGP CFO Joe Sanchez (deceased). (EGP archive photo)

We’ve talked about the services offered at community clinics like Arroyo Vista, and the free programs at local parks and libraries.

Our pages have been full of stories on art and culture, from the growth of the Chicano mural movement to the efforts to paint them over, and recent efforts to preserve some of the more iconic paintings. We’ve published the art of Congressional art contest winners, and features stories on local musical, dance and theater productions.

We’d be remiss in not mention the work of Rose Marie Soto, whose column “East L.A and Beyond” for more than a decade profiled up and coming actors, musicians, dancers, and people climbing the corporate ladder or leading community organizations.

Fred Zermeno, Mario Villegas, Mike Alvarez, and other sports writers and photographers have given us coverage from the local sports scene, from the professional sports teams to our local high school and college athletes. They have also contributed amazing photos from protests to fires, from news conferences to arts and entertainment.

Enjoying family, Board Member Michael Sanchez (rear right) takes break from business.

The success of our Letters to Santa Program, which over the years gave out tens of thousands of toys to local children, is in large part due to the efforts of volunteers Martha and Memo Careon, who year after year marshaled a team of college students to run the program.

And of course, there are the reporters, most of them young and just starting out, but with a passion to capture the stories playing out in the neighborhoods and cities they covered, and no one else was reporting. Some have gone on to win awards for their work.

We are proud to note that three generations of the Sanchez family have contributed to these pages over the last 38 years.

News of our closure has in recent days sparked a rash of interest in buying the newspapers. We don’t know where it will all lead, we can only hope that one will lead to continuing this special community trust.

For now, we want to close by thanking you our readers, who week after week have allowed us into your homes. We thank you for the many tips, the kind words and yes, even the criticism. Without you, none of this great journey would have been possible.

Copyright © 2018 Eastern Group Publications/EGPNews, Inc. ·