After two years of work, a team of researchers from the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism launched a hyperlocal news site, featuring content in Chinese, Spanish and English that encourages community members to participate in the site’s news coverage.
The website, Alhambra Source, exclusively serves the citizens in the City of Alhambra, a diverse community east of Los Angeles that is 52 percent Asian, 36 percent Latino and 11 percent Caucasian.
The Alhambra Project began in 2008 when Annenberg researchers, led by communication professor Sandra Ball-Rokeach, searched for ways to increase civic engagement. The project seeks to do so by keeping people informed and allowing cross-cultural communication, said researcher Nancy Chen.
“We want to break the ethnic divide in the community and allow people to discuss their local affairs and overcome their linguistic barriers,” Chen said.
The idea for the site originated from Michael Parks, former director of Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism and former editor of the Los Angeles Times. Parks said he believes that large news outlets such as the Times have failed to encourage civic participation.
“We’ve had the assumption for a long time that an informed citizenry, informed by the press, would take an active part in the decision making in the community. We’ll see if we can move the needle there,” said Parks, who currently examines how local news sites such as Alhambra Source can have an effect on the people.
Both USC researchers and members of the Alhambra community submit updates to the site. However, participation from the community is inherent in the design, Parks said. Its contributors range from experienced journalists to local high school reporters.
The researchers plan to use surveys to evaluate the effectiveness of the news site, Chen said.
“We’re hoping that two years along the road we can do a follow-up survey to determine if the website has had an impact on the level of civic engagement and current patterns of intergroup interactions,“ Chen said.
The project is funded by a grant from the Annenberg Foundation. Researcher Katherine Ognyanova said that the goal of the project is to grow and become financially independent, however.
“We’re hoping it could end up financially sustainable so that USC can turn it over to the residents,” said Ognyanova, a fourth-year doctoral candidate studying communication. “We’re struggling to come up with a good sustainable business model.”
Despite economic concerns, Ognyanova says she remains optimistic about the future of the site.
“We’d like to reach everyone,” Ognyanova said. “For the first year, getting to 10 to 15 percent of Alhambra would be great.”
Managing editor Daniela Gerson, an alumna who received her master’s degree in specialized journalism in 2009, said the Alhambra Source will help guide similar projects in other cities in the future.
“The ideal is that it could serve as a model for communication in diverse communities across the country,” Gerson said. “These communities will become increasingly common as the country becomes more and more diverse.”