A roundtable of reporters and experts discussed Tuesday the ways in which local journalism can increase civic engagement, the subject of a new initiative from the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism.
The panel included School of Journalism Director Geneva Overholser, Alhambra Source Editor Daniela Gerson and representatives from Annenberg’s local online news projects Alhambra Source, Intersections South L.A and Metamorphosis Project. The three projects aim to improve community engagement through journalism.
Overholser said the new Civic Engagement and Journalism Initiative works to merge scholarship from Annenberg with the skills introduced in the journalism major together to investigate how to create local news that promotes civic engagement in diverse communities.
“Journalism is right now figuring out how best to help people engage in the life of the community, and that’s what this initiative focuses on,” Overholser said. “It’s particularly exciting — and unique, really — that we can bring the talents of scholarly researchers and journalism professional together.”
Gerson said Annenberg’s scholarly research into increasing community involvement through journalism is unique.
“There’s a proliferation of hyper local news sites across the country, most of which would like to increase civic engagement,” Gerson said. “But few, if any, are engaged in research about how to make that happen.”
Launched in 2010, Alhambra Source is a multilingual local news source that is part of a joint research project at USC Annenberg’s Communication School’s Metamorphosis Project and the School of Journalism. The online publication is entirely composed of writing from more than 30 community contributors who submit first-person stories and serve as “natural translators” to their predominately Asian and Latino suburban community.
The Alhambra Source is published in English, Chinese and Spanish, making the site accessible to the vast majority of the community.
Esmee Xavier, an Alhambra Source contributor, said providing information to the community is an invaluable service.
“If it weren’t for the Source, there would be no easily accessible source of news in Alhambra,” Xavier said. “Most people didn’t even know there were City Council member elections.”
Prior to launching Alhambra Source, the Western San Gabriel Valley, which includes Alhambra, ranked as having the lowest sense of belonging out of six neighborhoods in the Los Angeles area, according to the Metamorphosis project, which studies urban communities. Civic participation was at an all-time low with the 2010 municipal elections being canceled when no candidate challenged any of the five incumbents up for re-election.
Joanna Wu, a 2007 Annenberg graduate and a member of the Alhambra community, said the news outlet helped reverse the lack of civic engagement.
“Just knowing that Alhambra Source is there makes you more interested in the city, it makes you more proud of it,” Wu said. “With other news sources like Patch, sometimes they just grab news from wherever. But with Alhambra Source, there’s an editor who is researching the news, editing it, checking for accuracy — it is journalism at work.”
Xavier also said the Alhambra Source is important for local communities since it provides unbiased analysis rather than advocacy.
“The local paper is by the Chamber of Commerce, and they don’t really cover the stories that open people’s eyes to issue that are actually happening,” Xavier said.