California State University-Los Angeles journalism students and faculty will partner with community groups to launch “micro-bureaus” to cover the San Gabriel Valley’s largely Asian and Latino community. Computer science grad students will help build a news management system and the University Times will publish content.
The CoolStateLA New Voices project to engage students in covering Southern California’s San Gabriel Valley has hired two student reporters to generate material exclusively for the endeavor, reports Jon Beaupre, the California State University (CSULA) professor in charge of the effort.
Beaupre also has established a new website to house CoolState’s New Voices material. “We’ve just registered the name ‘10Valley.com’ for the project,” he says. “It refers to the 10 freeway, which runs down the center of the Valley.”
“We just need to put time and effort into the process to see what will work and what won’t.” - Jon Beaupre
Now the roughly 250 New Voices stories created by student journalists since the project launched in mid-2008 will have their own home. Until now New Voices material has been part of the mix at CoolStateLA.com, which also contains content created by reporters for the university news site and the University Times newspaper.
The CoolState New Voices project also is moving forward with plans to create microbureaus in the string of communities that make up the San Gabriel Valley, which stretches 60 miles west to east from Los Angeles. Beaupre seeks to establish a minimum of two bureaus, each of which would consist essentially of a desk for a student reporter in the newsroom or office of a community partner.
One of the new hires, Gareth Howell, is posted in CoolState’s microbureau at Youth Radio, the first community partner to sign onto the New Voices project. Youth Radio is a nationally recognized training, production and distribution organization that has contributed widely to National Public Radio and other national news outlets. Howell is teaching the students about radio journalism and their audio stories, in turn, will be available on www.10Valley.com.
The other new student journalist, Stephanie Hill, was hired to work in the CoolState newsroom to manage the New Voices project. In addition to assigning, editing and reporting stories, she also is helping to locate potential community partners and handling Web-site matters.
Plans for a second microbureau in a newsroom of the San Gabriel Valley News Group have not panned out. Beaupre’s main contact at the newspaper group, which has three papers in the Valley, was promoted to a new editing position last year and since has been unable to help with the New Voices effort.
Beaupre is scouting out other prospective community partners - which could include Los Angeles County libraries, senior centers, high schools, and colleges and universities - and has high hopes for success.
“We are still moving forward with a planned two bureaus,” Beaupre says. “It is my hope and desire to simply continue adding bureaus as we contract with community sponsors and raise funds. Practically speaking, I’d love to have five bureaus up and operating within the next year.”
Beaupre is philosophical about the challenges in matching student journalists with community partners. “The whole thing is an experiment,” he says. “We just need to put time and effort into the process to see what will work and what won’t.”
Meanwhile, the CoolStateLA.com website has continued to gain in popularity. For all of 2008 the site received about 31,000 unique page views. This year to date the site has gotten more than double that, close to 77,000 unique page views.
Beaupre has secured his New Voices’ Year Two match, raising $2,000 in display advertising in the university’s newspaper, the University Times, and on the CoolStateLA.com website. He also received $3,000 from the Youth Radio Los Angeles bureau, an in-kind donation that included the use of office space and equipment and staff support.
Also, Beaupre reports that CoolState is now an affiliate of The Associated Press, which gives the news operations timely access to breaking developments. The cost of the affiliation is divided among the University Times, CoolStateLA.com, Cool State Radio and the New Voices project, making the outlay “nominal” for each venture, Beaupre says.
Another encouraging development is the completion of CoolState’s news management system prototype - a collaborative project with CSULA graduate computer science students. “The system is Web-based and can handle text, audio, video, photo, animation and any other sort of new media,” reports Beaupre, who dubs it an “inside track” to manage, edit and repurpose news products. “For example, as we get Youth Radio online, they will be able to examine our daily news budget and we’ll be able to examine what they are working on,” he says.
CoolState’s two New Voices reporters will follow several stories in the coming months. Among them:
* The scramble by local candidates to replace Congresswoman Hilda Solis, who was chosen to serve as U.S. secretary of labor.
* The economy: With Los Angeles County’s unemployment rate pushing 12 percent and its poverty rate over 11 percent, the San Gabriel Valley - “with its used car lots, Asian markets and restaurants and warehouse industries” - is particularly hard-hit, Beaupre writes.
* “Legal” marijuana dispensaries: Much of California has agreed to them, but a number of Valley cities are considering moratoriums on the outlets.
* The effect, if any, of federal stimulus spending in the Valley.
- Hope Keller, 6/5/09
Cool for School
Operating out of the offices of the 50-year-old campus newspaper, CoolStateLA.com has a very modern aim: to create a multimedia citizen-journalism website to present local news that the area’s increasingly strained mainstream media outlets are not covering.
“The goal is to find new and effective ways to harness the power of computers to deliver higher quality news,” says Jon Beaupre, the California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA), professor in charge of the project.
“We want to make better citizens.”
Beaupre also states another, overarching goal of the CoolState project, which uses text, photos, video and audio to deliver the news: “We want to make better citizens.”
Cool State seeks to cover the San Gabriel Valley from a hyperlocal perspective, reporting on developments in the burgeoning area east of Los Angeles that is home to two million people, most of them Asian or Latino. It also hopes to partner with local ethnic media organizations to translate Cool State’s content for foreign-born news consumers.
CoolState shares five general assignment reporters with the campus paper, the University Times. The reporters dedicate 10 percent to 20 percent of their efforts to covering stories for the online venture. Beaupre reports that CoolState is close to hiring its first employee who will work entirely on Web-site pieces.
Students are expected to write, shoot video and still photos and record and edit audio, Beaupre says. “All of our reporters know they are expected to work in all forms, media and platforms. I think it is fair to say they have embraced the concept without a single hesitation and with lots of enthusiasm.”
Even as the CoolState team struggled with the logistics of setting up a new media venture in the second half of 2008, it still managed to produce a considerable amount of news from the San Gabriel Valley, thanks mainly to student journalist Marlene LeBouvier.
The indefatigable LeBouvier visited most of the 31 cities in the valley, where she picked up local publications that she combed for news tips and sources. She filed about three dozen stories and was a prolific photographer. “The coverage has been lively, vibrant and visually oriented,” Beaupre reports. “What the stories have lacked in depth and polish they make up for in breadth of coverage and understanding of their topics.” Her graduation in December has left Beaupre searching for a new lead reporter.
Because the coverage area is large—the Valley stretches 60 miles west to east—Cool State is working to set up a network of community partners to house “microbureaus” staffed by CSULA student journalists. Possible partners include Los Angeles County libraries, senior centers, high schools, colleges and universities and “Big J” journalism outlets.
Beaupre and his CoolState team succeeded in setting up a community partnership with the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, which is part of the MediaNews Group chain. Beaupre and his team, seeking a newsroom point person to oversee a CoolState intern, doggedly wooed Frank Giradot, an editor - sealing the deal by bringing him lunch in the newsroom.
However, Beaupre is now looking for another newsroom contact, since Giradot’s job responsibilities have significantly increased with the Valley Tribune’s recent acquisition of the copy desks of The (San Bernardino) Sun and the (Ontario) Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. “It seems likely that we will need to recruit another liaison within that newsroom, as Mr. Giradot’s time will be severely limited,” Beaupre reports.
A student journalist is already in place 20 hours a week in the offices of another community partner, Youth Radio. The CSULA student helps teach high school students how to produce radio news programs and in turn sends story ideas back to the CoolState newsroom on campus.
Besides securing community partners to establish microbureaus throughout the San Gabriel Valley, Beaupre and his team face several other challenges:
CoolState’s business manager has been out on an extended medical leave, creating a backlog of tasks that Beaupre must handle in addition to his other responsibilities.
CoolState generally loses 25 percent to 50 percent of its staffers each quarter due to graduation, attrition or unavailability.
The learning curve on student payment has been steep. Beaupre says he must be careful to use the New Voices grant to pay student journalists in a way that does not invalidate or otherwise endanger their financial-aid packages.
Finding strategic partners in the for-profit sector is a priority. “We hope to recruit a ‘super ally’ to help brand and underwrite our efforts,” Beaupre says.
CoolStateLA.com has seen a steady increase in the number of visitors to the website. In October 2008 the site received less than 500 unique visitors. In November the number more than doubled, to 1,171 unique visitors. In December it rose again, to 2,150 visitors, who made slightly more than 13,000 page visits.
New Voices is an initiative of J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism. J-LabTM is an incubator for innovative, participatory news experiments and is a center of American University's School of Communication in Washington, D.C. New Voices is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.