I was honored to be asked to be a project adviser last month for a USC masters class in Specialized Journalism. USC Professor Sasha Anawalt invited some of my favorite journalists in Los Angeles to lead students to cover a topic in depth yet quickly with a video camera. The journalist included Laurie Ochoa, co-founder of Slake, a literary journal about Southern California. She was editor-in-chief of the LA Weekly and spent ten years as a reporter and editor at the LA Times; and Celeste Freeman, an award winning freelance journalist specializing in gangs and criminal justice is the creator and editor of WitnessLA.com.
As a result of the assignment and structure of the class some of the most ignored parts of the city were given the full attention of three budding journalists - in the course of a few days these areas got more coverage than they do in a year or even years.
"Giving voice to the voiceless is integral to our our profession," said USC Journalism Professor Sasha Anawalt, who leads the specialized journalism program. "With only one major paper, and with such an expanse of territory and with such complex demographics and behavior pattens, how can any natural born or trained journalist not be drawn to "under represented" neighborhoods."
USC (where I work and earned my master's degree in Online Communities) often requests for requires students do projects around issues in the local community and Los Angeles. So instead of a paper on a hypothetical you apply your knowledge to a situation that might just benefit from the work.
"I am thrilled to be part of a school (Annenberg) and University (USC) that takes responsibility for its role as part of a larger place (Los Angeles) , and that looks to its immediate neighbors often first as partners, collaborators, resources and, also, laboratory," Sasha said.
The project advisers gave their reporters a briefing on the topic, the reporters then visited the area and spend some time there and then we all returned to do the video shoots.
Students fanned out all over the city with their accomplished advisers - Rebecca Kinsky contributes regularly to LA Weekly and her most recent producing credits are for Funny or Die and a music video for the band Foster the People. Edward Lifson has written on culture and architecture for many years for National Public Radio. Meghan McCarty is a producer for The Madeleine Brand Show, a daily news magazine at KPCC public radio. Jim Mendiola of Echo Park is an award-winning short filmmaker. Rachel Neubeckr is in the process of completing a documentary film on the Venice artist Mark Hobley. Lauren Whaley produces stories for the California HealthCare Foundation Center for Health Reporting at USC.
They covered topics in Echo Park (pinball place, house of inspiration, a film society, Machine Project), Boyle Heights (Homeboy; Libros Schmibros and a cemetery) Pasadena (Arlington Gardens) an more.
"They were all over the place," Sasha said. Under represented neighborhoods have my attention, as do subcultures," Anawalt said. "These tests your journalism nerve, skill and response. Plus help students avoid the predictable and the cliche. They can make stories their own."
Though I offered plenty of story ideas, Veronica Villafane insisted that her focus would be on Leimert Park Beat.
Veronica, an Emmy award-winning journalist for Spanish-language networks Univision, Telemundo and CNN en Español and currently the Managing Editor for IntersectionsSouthLA.org, did a wonderful job capturing everything I hoped that Leimert Park Beat would be.