Veteran reporter, first-time teacher introduces the craft to non-journalism students

By Louis Sahagun:

After 34 years as a staff writer at the Los Angeles Times, I just finished my first semester of teaching journalism at the college level.

I’m feeling pretty good about my experience and what my seven Antioch University Los Angeles students accomplished in the 1-unit Master of Arts in Urban Sustainability course titled “Introduction to Environmental Journalism.”

The students came up with real-life controversies and issues brewing in their own neighborhoods. Then, just as I do with my editor at  the Los Angeles Times, we discussed how best to investigate and write about them.

Overall, I shared tricks of the trade learned on the job over the past three decades and introduced them to the complex and nuanced relationships between journalists, scientists, regulatory agencies, non-profits, landscapes and the public.

One student investigated a nonprofit dedicated to training a new generation of community activists to improve the quality of life in the Los Angeles housing project known as Ramona Gardens. The nonprofit, she discovered, had plenty of recruits, but little money to implement projects on its wish list.

Another student examined the City of South Pasadena’s efforts to transform itself into an environmentally sustainable oasis on the southern flanks of the San Gabriel Mountains.

Other articles were about the health benefits of hiking the trails of a scenic state park south of downtown Los Angeles; a massive fish die-off in the seaside community of Playa del Rey; a neighborhood campaign to reduce the noise and air pollution resulting from Santa Monica Airport’s aviation activities, and the plight of four lonely “ladies in waiting” — California condors at the Santa Barbara Zoo not yet needed to participate in captive breeding programs across the nation.

Every student who enrolled completed the class offered at the small non-profit private liberal arts school in Culver City.

Their success was especially gratifying to me because after graduation, they will be applying some of the journalistic tools and insights they learned in class at jobs in social services, philanthropic organizations and government agencies across the nation.

Louis Sahagun is a CCNMA board member and staff writer at the Los Angeles Times. Follow him on Twitter @LouisSahagun.

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In photos: CCNMA’s 36th Journalism Opportunities Conference

CCNMA wrapped up its 36th Journalism Opportunities Conference on Friday. Didn’t go? Here’s what you missed.

 You can also get a taste of what happened via JOC panelist and John S. Knight journalism fellow Eric Ortiz’s Evrybit conference story.
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Claudia Núñez: Break routine, take the first step, lose fear

Claudia Núñez assists participants at Mexico Migrahack in April 2014. Claudia Núñez assists participants at Mexico Migrahack in April 2014.

Claudia Núñez was a reporter for La Opinión in Los Angeles when she became a 2012 John S. Knight Fellow at Stanford University. During her fellowship, she developed what eventually became the Migrahack project, trainings and hackathons about immigration data. Now, she runs Migrahack, which is part of the Institute for Justice & Journalism, and works as Spanish web editor for Human Rights Watch.

Applications are currently open for the JSK fellowship and are due on Dec. 1. In an interview, Claudia offers advice for potential fellowship candidates and how her life has been changed by the experience:

1. Why did you decide to apply for the JSK fellowship?

Routines are a journalist’s worst enemy. They can slowly invade the editorial newsrooms, like a spider web that traps ideas and devours passion. Perhaps those were not the precise words I was thinking, but that sensation invaded my being when I decided to apply for the JSK fellowship.

During that time, I was inspired by two great journalists. When I saw the multimedia and data journalism piece, “Not Just a Number,” a project on homicides in Oakland by Katy Newton (Knight Fellow ‘12), I thought about the possibility of creating an organization that would assist ethnic media journalists in realizing projects of that quality. The big push came after I met Phuong Ly (Knight Fellow ’11) during a conference at UC Berkeley. She gave a presentation about her project, which was similar in idea to mine – it was related to immigration. The energy with which Phuong presented her project gave me the confidence that I needed, to present my proposals.

2. How did you spend your year at Stanford?

I would be lying if I said that I only spent my time there expanding my vision of journalism in technology. The year at Stanford was a mixture of renewing my ties with my family, an opportunity to make new friends, ponder my health, and gain the understanding of the importance of collaboration – something that ultimately was my greatest lesson.

3. How did your project evolve during the year?

The first phase of my project involved my complete immersion into classes of statistics, data journalism, and visualization techniques. At the same time, I took the opportunity to meet and chat with a number of experts regarding my idea. Each and every one of them provided valuable insight and advice that further developed the Migrahack project, training and hackathons on immigration data.

4. What have you done since the fellowship, and what are your future plans?

The fellowship has been a total game changer. Thanks to the relationships that I developed as a result of the fellowship, my project was able to launch. I set a goal to hold a Migrahack in Los Angeles as a pilot.

We had little money, but a lot of volunteers, including several of my fellow Knight Fellows as well as a professor at Stanford and open-data advocates from Los Angeles. Afterward, I continued to collaborate with Phuong Ly, another Knight fellow, who was executive director of the Institute for Justice & Journalism. Migrahack became part of IJJ, and Phuong and I collaborated to improve the project. IJJ was able to bring fundraising resources to make Migrahack a bigger and more effective event. We organized two multi-day hackathons in Chicago and Mexico City and two smaller training events.

Migrahack became a symbol of collaboration journalism, a new way to generate stories based on the power of the diversity of backgrounds. With the help of many of my Knight Fellows (Wilson Liévano, Nuno Vargas, Martyn Williams, Carlos Martinez de la Serna, Cindy Royal, Teresa Bouza) as well as the people who believe in a better journalism (Periodistas de a Pie, Margarita Torres, Patricia Carbajales, David Eads, and many more) we have trained dozens of journalists and nonprofit staffers on the importance of using data and technology.

Through Migrahack, more than 20 interactive projects have been developed and widely distributed on social media as well as in traditional media outlets in the U.S., Mexico and Central America.

In parallel with my Migrahack work, the fellowship has opened the door to participating in numerous conferences throughout the U.S., Mexico, and Europe.

This has all been made possible due to this fabulous year spent at Stanford. New opportunities have presented themselves to me, including becoming part of the leading human rights organization in the world, Human Rights Watch, where I am now the Spanish web editor.

5. What advice do you have for journalists who want to apply for the fellowship?

I would tell them to take that first step. One of the best lessons that Stanford ingrained in my mind was to lose the fear of failure. Previously, the fear of failure and a lack of confidence in my ideas paralyzed me to the point that I couldn’t take the first step. I invite all of my Hispanic colleagues to overcome that first barrier and submit your ideas. It will be an unforgettable experience.

My second piece of advice is to embrace your diverse background. The fellowship certainly does. During my time as a fellow, I felt the support that the fellowship directors provided to journalists from minority groups. They value the array of experiences and perspectives that journalists of color bring to the program. We ethnic media journalists provide a unique vision not just to the program but to other international and national fellows. Our participation is important!

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Diversifying online journalism is the next frontier

BuzzFeed Latino editor Adrian Carrasquillo addresses 2014 NAHJ conference-goers in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo courtesy of Adrian Carrasquillo)

BuzzFeed Latino editor Adrian Carrasquillo addresses 2014 NAHJ conference-goers in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo courtesy of Adrian Carrasquillo)

By Dennis Romero:

The lack of diversity in the online journalism world has often dodged criticism by minority journalism groups focused on traditional broadcast outlets and dead-tree media. But, to be sure, it is a serious issue that has been ignored for far too long.

We should be pleased that BuzzFeed, one of online journalism’s shining stars, has announced to the world that it is making the diversity of its workforce a priority.

The operation noted that its editorial staff is about 10 percent Latino, and it’s clear that this percentage is only going to increase.

BuzzFeed Latino editor Adrian Carrasquillo, who is based in New York, said this was not a flash-in-the-pan move to get some quick hits from America’s growing audience. His employer sees the writing on the wall: Latinos already comprise California’s largest ethnic group, and the United States could be a so-called majority-minority by 2050.

It’s a business decision, Carrasquillo said. Editor Ben Smith said the number of Latinos in BuzzFeed’s younger-leaning audience was huge. His publication needs to speak to its audience, or the effort is futile, he indicated.

At CCNMA, we hope news organizations like Yahoo News, Google News, the Daily Beast, TMZ and even trade publications like the Hollywood Reporter and Variety get the message and follow Buzzfeed’s lead.

It’s time to reflect your community — particularly if your operations are based in California and, more importantly, in Los Angeles, where half of your potential audience is Latino.

Dennis Romero is a CCNMA board member and news writer at LA Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @dennisjromero.

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Latino pipeline to journalism, liberal arts drying up

By Joe Rodriguez:

(Photo by Kelly Chang // Mosaic Staff Photographer)

(Photo by Kelly Chang // Mosaic Staff Photographer)

Every new year should ring in lofty goals, not a sense of dread. But that’s how its been lately for a high school journalism program I help run in San Jose. We mail dozens of application packets to local high schools, visit classrooms in person, and beg journalism advisors to press talented students to apply. Every year it’s the same: We’re lucky if only a handful of Latino students turn in applications.

The Latino pipeline to journalism is drying up in high school and we can’t blame it solely all on campus journalism cuts or teaching to the test. I thought we were just bad recruiters until I spoke with two Latino professors at San Jose State University who see the same problem from another vantage point — fewer and fewer Latino students are majoring in the liberal arts or humanities.

“I can count on one hand the number of Latino English majors in my seven years here,” said Associate Prof. Magdalena Barrera, who teaches Mexican-American studies.

“I think they have a lot of pressure on them to major in something that is more practical, like business or engineering. They’re asking themselves, ‘What can I do with this degree?’”

Only 6 percent of Latino college students major in the humanities, Barrera said. That should raise a red flag for journalism because quite a few liberal arts and humanities graduates become professional journalists. With a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies, I’m one of them.

The irony is that the Latino flight from the liberal arts is happening just as more Hispanics enter college. According to the Pew Research Center, Hispanic enrollment among 18 to 24 year olds at four-year colleges increased 20 percent from October 2010 (1.0 million) to October 2011 (1.2 million).

Carlos Sanchez is one of only four, tenured Latino philosophy professors in the United States. Every chance he gets, he talks up philosophy to Latino students at academic conferences and informal gatherings. He said they usually respond first with “puzzled looks.” Funny, I get the same looks when I visit high schools to talk about the wonderful world of journalism. Still, Sanchez soldiers on.

“I can say my batting average is .300,” he said, using a baseball metaphor for success in hitting. “I can tell you right off the bat that what you’re seeing is a symptom of something more menacing for Latino students in general.”

Now, journalists don’t usually look to philosophers to explain the news. Instead, we favor social and political scientists who churn out gobs of research numbers. But in the case of the endangered, young Latino journalist, I think Sanchez is onto something. Family hardships and economic anxiety don’t fully explain the flight of Latino students away from liberal arts (and, I would add, journalism). He sees something insidious — a modern, technological culture that values superficial information and snap judgement.

With the Mosaic Journalism Workshop, we thought we could make up for the slaughter of journalism programs in Latino and minority high schools by offering a high-quality, intensive summer program. Students don’t pay a dime. And it works.

Some 400 students have passed through Mosaic since its start in 1993. Our follow-up surveys show 14 percent of our alumni have become professional journalists. About 30 percent entered related fields that emphasize writing and communication, including public relations and teaching. Considering that we’re working with 16 and 17 year olds, that’s a pretty good success rate.

We knew going in that finding young Latino journalists for Mosaic was never going to be easy. Of the 11 public high schools in East San Jose, the Latino heart of Silicon Valley, most have skimpy journalism programs or none at all.

I remember a deflating visit to a journalism class at San Jose High School, the alma mater of Rigo Chacon, the dean of Latino broadcast journalists in the Bay Area, past CCNMA honoree and member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists Hall of Fame. The school today is predominantly Latino and working class. There were a few Latino students in the class but none were interested in Mosaic. For them, journalism was a “forced elective,’’ something to fulfill a graduation requirement. The instructor told me only one student was genuinely interested, an Indo-American girl.

So, we’ve resorted to asking English departments and yearbook staffs for good writers and photographers. That’s not working, either. After two decades, less than half of Mosaic participants have been Latino students, our target group, and they’re becoming more difficult to recruit.

Sanchez agrees that Latino students are bending to family pressure and economic anxiety to make “practical” career choices, but he thinks they’re deciding too early in high school and increasingly under intense peer pressure unleashed by today’s social media.

“Contemporary culture values the speed and quickness of information and the lack of attention otherwise necessary for contemplation, reflection, and well-thought out ideas that we’re used to in journalism and in the humanities,” Sanchez said. “Students, especially Latino students, who have witnessed the struggles of their parents and community, buy into the speed-apparatus and come to believe that their problems and crises will go away if they employ quick strategies for success–business degrees, engineering.”

One reason Hispanic students don’t take courses on Plato, he said, is because they check first with Twitter or Facebook and learn that their peers aren’t interested in Plato.

“So long as we don’t show them that journalism, philosophy, humanities are paths to success, and that success can be measured in many different ways besides who has the most followers, or the most money, then they will not major in them,” Sanchez said. “They will not spend the time, which seems to always be going faster and faster, in pace with material progress.”

Of course, today’s journalism can be equally wired, speedy and superficial. But Sanchez was talking about journalism at its best, when reporters are the first to get the news, sort through the confusing details or lies, and deliver the truth in a timely fashion. That doesn’t take long contemplation, but it does take critical thinking and good writing.

He said he’s not sure how to get Latino kids interested in Plato again, or Mexican-American studies or journalism, but it has to begin in high school or earlier.

CCNMA and a host of other minority journalism groups give away tens of thousands of dollars in college scholarships every year. But we have to ask ourselves what happens when fewer young Latinos apply for those scholarships? We could sit back and watch high-tech steal our best young writers, even if they aren’t cut out for writing code, and simply reward the few Latino students who manage to stick with journalism.

Saving journalism education in predominantly Latino schools will be much harder and more expensive than giving out scholarships. Still, there will be fewer Latinos seeking journalism as a career in college if we don’t offer those scholarships and programs, and the dream of having American newsrooms that actually reflect the makeup of this nation will become just a pipe dream.

— Joe Rodriguez is the CCNMA vice president for education and a staff writer with the San Jose Mercury News.

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