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USC Annenberg trains second class of budding reporters in South LA

by Shirley Shin
The Reporter Corps South LA group (Shanice Joseph, Mario Narciso, Xochil Frausto, Skylar Myers, Roan Johnson, Miguel Molina and Jasmin Lopez) will produce stories on education.
Photo: The Reporter Corps South LA group (Shanice Joseph, Mario Narciso, Xochil Frausto, Skylar Myers, Roan Johnson, Miguel Molina and Jasmin Lopez) will produce stories on education.

Dozens of South Los Angeles residents, community leaders, journalists, and USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism students, faculty and staff congregated on June 27 at Mercado La Paloma to celebrate the launch of the second cohort of Reporter Corps.

Aspiring journalists from across South LA shared personal issues that they wanted to explore in their community: What is it like today to be a gay youth in Watts? Could a charter school replace the proclivity of affluent African-American families in Baldwin Hills to send their children elsewhere for schools? What changed in middle school so that all but one of the kids on a neighborhood block decided against going to college and most ended up in jail or pregnant?

In the next two months, these young reporters — ages 18 to 24 — will take their microphones, notebooks and cameras to the streets to try to answer these questions and more as the first class of Reporter Corps South LA. Their work will be featured on Intersections: South LA, one of USC Annenberg’s three affiliated local news websites.

Reporter Corps developed from USC Annenberg’s Civic Engagement and Journalism Initiative’s research into how to best impact underserved and multiethnic communities through local media. Recent high school graduates were selected because they’re an often overlooked group with extra time to contribute as they are facing some of the highest unemployment rates in half a century. Reporter Corps provides these young adults training in multimedia reporting utilizing USC Annenberg’s state-of-the-art resources, teaches them how their local government works, and matches them with professional journalist mentors.

The first Reporter Corps class ran in Alhambra from October 2012 to April and published stories on Alhambra Source. During the first year, Reporter Corps was connected with more than a dozen professional newsrooms, including KQED, KPCC, KCRW, Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Hechinger Report.

The program starts with a two-week orientation into multimedia skills and local municipal issues. The journalism training draws upon USC Annenberg’s resources and volunteer journalists. The second week focuses on introducing the reporters to their local government by visiting City Hall, going on police ride-alongs and learning about the school district. After that, the young journalists go to work reporting on both first-person and news stories about issues in their communities.

An innovative element of their information gathering is running a multilingual community forum around the issues they are exploring. Last winter, one Alhambra reporter’s work was shared in a forum in Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese that drew more than 70 people to discuss issues of growing up in an immigrant community.

Following that forum, stories produced in the first class of Reporter Corps Alhambra include:

“Daughter of an arranged marriage,” posted on Alhambra Source, New America Media, Alternet and San Diego Free Press.

“A Cuban immigrant, silenced for being different,” posted on Alhambra Source and broadcast as part of KQED’s California Report.

“Should I stay or should I go: a young Filipino-American’s dilemma,” posted on Alhambra Source and New America Media.

The Reporter Corps South LA group will focus its stories on education issues and partner with The Hechinger Report. The following six participants were selected based on their connection to South LA, growth potential and determination to address social issues within their community:

Xochil Frausto, 23, Jordan High School graduate, Laney College student, speaks Spanish

“Growing up in Watts, I saw the cyclical reality of poverty, drug abuse and gang warfare. Walking to school I would see bodies, blood and altars. Although these circumstances brought many hardships in my life, I also feel fortunate to have grown up in a place that is so unique from its historical role in the black power movement, to the arts, to the cultural mixture of African-Americans and Latinos. I want to share the stories of my neighborhood and bring forward a renewed perspective of South Los Angeles — issues that pertain to the immigrant community, gentrification, foreclosures and the black community, and LGBT issues.”

Ryan Johnson, 19, Immaculate Heart High School graduate, Loyola Marymount University student

“Three generations of my family have lived in South Los Angeles, and I have lived in the Baldwin Hills section my entire life, a predominantly middle-class, African-American neighborhood. I feel that my experience as a Reporter Corps participant will allow me to educate families and the local youth by discussing community events and resources that serve as a positive outlet for stimulating personal growth.”

Shanice Joseph, 21, Frederick Douglass High School graduate, Long Beach City College student

“When I was 4, I moved to Watts with three of my six siblings to live with my grandmother. She had moved back from Panama to take care of us and found low-income housing in Watts. The majority of my life I stayed with my grandmother since my mother struggled with drug addiction. Although each resident from Watts comes from a different background with a special story to tell, nearly all of us have one thing in common: We were raised in poverty. As a writer, I am dedicated to serving my community and educating the people who live there through my writing.”

Miguel Molina, 19, Los Angeles Big Picture High School (formerly known as Film and Theatre Arts Charter High School) graduate, East Los Angeles College student, speaks Spanish

“Growing up, my mom didn’t like for me to go outside and play because she thought the neighborhood was too dangerous. Although I did witness a shooting once, I never saw South Los Angeles through my mom’s eyes. For me, my neighborhood wasn’t bad. For me, it was filled with families and people that liked to go outside and play in the park and enjoy themselves. I want to explore after-school programs in South LA because I didn’t see many growing up nor did it seem to be an issue people were aware of.”

Skylar Myers, 23, St. Bernard High School graduate, University of California, San Diego, graduate

“My grandparents remember the treachery of the Watts Riots of 1965 just as vividly as they can recall their first time witnessing the genre-bending genius of George Clinton and the Funkadelic at a house party in Compton. And let me tell you their words are unlike anything you’d read in a history book. In the midst of gang wars, riots and disparity, my grandparents would tell me these stories and they’ve worked to instill me with pride, hope and dignity throughout my life. Through Reporter Corps South LA, I hope to bring light and voice to the overshadowed stories of the streets, the people and the schools in hopes of instilling all South Central Angelinos with the same pride, hope, dignity and attachment I feel for this city.”

Mario Narciso, 18, Foshay Learning Center graduate, University of California, Riverside, incoming freshman, speaks Spanish and Zapotec

“I am from a large, proud family from Oaxaca, Mexico. In their town most speak an indigenous language, Zapotec, as well as some Spanish. In 1989 my parents left Mexico in search of work and moved to South LA, where I was born. As a participant in Reporter Corps, I am interested in focusing on two issues: special education and perceptions of Latino and black youth. I was in special [education] for three years and if my father had not helped me leave, I may have been stuck in it. I would also like to also show the positive and the untold stories of the ‘wild jungles’ of LA.”

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