Giving a voice to West Oakland residents – Tribune – 2.9.2010

Oakland Tribune, The (CA) – Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Author: Tammerlin Drummond Oakland Tribune Columnist

If there were a contest to determine which neighborhood best epitomizes “how bad Oakland is,” I suspect West and East Oakland would be neck and neck.

Both neighborhoods are so often portrayed as dangerous, violent places, I’m sure a lot of people would be shocked to learn anything other than street killings ever occurs.

The people who live in East and West Oakland don’t need anyone to tell us that violence is a big problem in our neighborhoods. But we also know that there are honest, hardworking people trying to improve the community. The frustrating thing is, we hear so much about the hoodlums running down everything, but so little about the folks who are working to improve access to decent health care. Going out of their way to mentor children whose own parents are missing in action. Fighting to reduce toxic emissions from trucks and factories.

The Oakland Tribune has just launched a community news project, Oakland Voices , which we believe will help us get some of these previously underreported stories into the newspaper.

Oakland Voices will begin in West Oakland . The plan is to expand to East Oakland .

The six-month program will train West Oakland residents as citizen journalists, empowering them to report through their own eyes what is going on in their communities. Oakland Voices is a partnership between the Tribune, the California Endowment, the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education and the Oakland Public Library.

The idea is to use West Oakland residents to help our news organization produce more nuanced coverage of West Oakland that doesn’t turn a blind eye to dysfunction, but that also captures the vibrancy and rich culture of the neighborhood.

The community newsroom will be housed at the West Oakland branch library, where the community members who are chosen for the program will team up with veteran reporters. The Tribune will publish select articles in the newspaper and on our Web site.

Tribune Editor Martin G. Reynolds sees the project as a way for the newspaper to give back to the community by giving residents a platform for telling their stories. It’s also a way in these tough times of shrinking budgets and cutbacks for the Tribune to grow its newsroom by tapping community members to help round out our coverage.

“We’re looking for people with compelling life stories,” Reynolds said. “We’re trying to hear the voices that are not being heard.”

Reynolds said he got the idea for the project after attending a journalism conference in St. Louis in 2006. West Oakland community activist Azalea Blalock spoke about a “new news ecology” that would create a partnership between community members and journalists.

Her feeling was that residents would learn to trust reporters. They would also feel like equals instead of assuming that the news was “above them.”

Through this partnership, ideas for stories would occur organically rather than reporters periodically parachuting in to report on the latest disaster.

The citizen journalists will receive a $1,000 program stipend.

The California Endowment, which has supported media initiatives to improve health reporting, gave the project a $60,000 grant.

The program will be run by Christopher Johnson , a former National Public Radio editor and producer. Originally from Washington, D.C., Johnson now lives in Oakland and said he sees parallels between the two cities.

The training curriculum will be devised by the Maynard Institute, which is run by Dori Maynard, daughter of the late Tribune Publisher Robert Maynard.

Dori Maynard lives in West Oakland . She’s sick and tired of the bad rap about her neighborhood.

Her hope is that Oakland Voices will help to dispel a distorted portrait of West Oakland .

“One of the things I hope people see is that life in West Oakland is normal,” Maynard said. “Everything in the news is about something horrible happening but that’s really not what life is like in this community.”

The deadline to apply for the Oakland Voices program is March 12. Applicants must be West Oakland residents. For details, e-mail Johnson at

Tammerlin Drummond is a columnist for the Bay Area News Group. Contact her at or follow her at Twitter/Tammerlin.

Oakland Voices Seeks Community Reporters at West Oakland Library – Tribune – 2.7.2010

Oakland Tribune, The (CA) – Sunday, February 7, 2010

Author: Sean Maher The Oakland Tribune

OAKLAND — The Tribune launched a program in West Oakland on Saturday to turn the area’s residents into published journalists.

Oakland Voices will recruit area residents and train them to be reporters, ultimately publishing their stories and pairing them with professionals for larger projects.

The Tribune is renting a room in the West Oakland library branch at 1801 Adeline St. to house a computer center, where much of the work will be done.

“I’ve always been interested in the idea of community journalism,” said C.B. Smith-Dahl, a West Oakland parent and educator. “There are such rich stories in West Oakland that don’t get covered. I know the Tribune knows that, and maybe this is a way to get them told.”

“People always say in this community there are a lot of good things happening here,” Smith-Dahl added. “We have farmers markets five days a week. Neighbors all know each other and talk to each other.”

Smith-Dahl compared residents to a family, saying the negative aspects get too much attention.

“Every family has a crazy uncle and a wild young girl,” she said. “But there’s also the single mom who runs a business, and the retired older person who gives advice and wisdom. West Oakland is like that. There are crazy aspects to it, but a lot to admire, too.

“I’m not from West Oakland ,” she added. “But my children will be. So this is important.”

The training will begin in April and the curriculum is being designed by Evelyn Hsu, a program director with the Maynard Institute, which trains minority journalists and attempts to diversify newsrooms.

“We’ll be covering some fundamentals,” Hsu said, “looking at what exactly journalism is, and walking people through how to do research and reporting, how to verify facts. We’ll look at the basics of photography, possibly some multimedia.”

“What’s really exciting about it, to me, is finding out what the people who take the program bring to the table,” Hsu said. “A lot of the curriculum will end up depending on the people who come through.”

The program, funded by a major grant from the California Endowment, provides stipends of $1,000 to core program participants. For more information or to apply, call 510-273-0210 or e-mail The deadline is March 12.

West Oakland ‘ Voices ‘ ready to be heard – Tribune – 2.2.2010

West Oakland ‘ Voices ‘ ready to be heard

Oakland Tribune, The (CA) – Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Author: Sean Maher Oakland Tribune

OAKLAND — Someone reading this story in West Oakland could end up writing one of the next stories the Tribune publishes.

The Oakland Voices project, housed in a rented space inside the West Oakland branch of the city’s public library, will hold an open house Saturday in an effort to recruit residents to learn journalism skills and enrich neighborhood coverage with their perspectives.

“Sometimes I’ve felt kind of like a thief,” said Christopher Johnson, a journalist and Oakland Voices correspondent coordinator. “As a journalist, you go to people and you get their stories, which you translate to a news story. Most of the time, they go on about their lives; it doesn’t make too much difference. It doesn’t change them.”

Through the Oakland Voices program, however, Johnson and the Tribune hope to change that. The 10 West Oakland residents selected to participate in the six-month program will work with veteran journalists and educators to develop reporting skills they will use to research, write and publish stories on a dedicated portion of the Tribune’s Web site, and potentially in the Tribune as well.

“We’re talking about examining the right to knowledge,” Johnson said. “Being more critical of media, yes, but also the power to interrogate, to question. To be able to articulate what you don’t know is incredibly empowering and important.”

Tribune Editor Martin G. Reynolds spearheaded the project after a “Journalism That Matters” conference held in St. Louis in 2006.

The goal of the Oakland contingent, which included West Oakland residents, an Oakland librarian and Tribune reporter Cecily Burt, was to examine the idea of creating a community news bureau. It was at that conference Reynolds heard one of the residents speak about creating a “new news ecology” to help news outlets better understand and interact with the diverse communities they cover.

“The biggest challenge in our industry right now is survival,” Reynolds said. “It’s what’s key. Diversity is not on the table in the same way it once was. In these economic conditions, it’s impossible to grow your newsroom. So we’re trying to find a way to bring in more voices that otherwise might not be heard .”

The idea of a “new news ecology,” he said, came from West Oakland community activist Azalea Blalock.

The concept, Blalock said, “was basically to have a comfortable setting of community people, young and old, and involving them. Merging people like Martin with people in the community to where they can trust the news people. We get real news and solutions firsthand, so the people feel equal instead of feeling the news is above them.”

West Oakland was an ideal candidate for launching the program, Reynolds said, because of its rich history as the “Harlem of the West Coast.”

“There’s a real mix in West Oakland ,” he said. “Some folks in the community are very engaged and active.”

However, there are also pockets of impoverished, often-forgotten neighborhoods, Reynolds said.

Johnson agreed.

“West Oakland is hugely important to black political history and always seemed to have this heartbeat, this pulse. It’s still developing, struggling, but has a sense of itself, a sense of pride and a history. Not just the history of 50 years ago, but 10 years ago and one year ago.”

Residents who apply and are accepted into the program will be trained to tell stories through a curriculum devised by the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, headed by Dori Maynard, daughter of former Oakland Tribune Publisher Robert C. Maynard.

“We are excited to help amplify Oakland voices so the wider population can get a more accurate picture of this interesting and vital city,” Dori Maynard said.

Oakland library officials said they saw the value in the project from the start and were happy to find a way to help accommodate the center’s creation.

“At a time when the media continues to migrate toward online news sources,” Oakland Public Library Director Carmen Martinez said, “this pilot project will encourage and develop writing and editing skills and connect reporting to the rich world of information at the library.”

The pilot already has garnered national attention and, if successful, could be applied in other parts of the city and around the country, said Kevin Keane, vice president of news for Bay Area News Group-East Bay.

“I think it’s an important, interesting opportunity for Oakland residents to participate in expanding this community dialogue,” he said. “Anything we can do to facilitate that is important.”

Saturday’s event is open to the public. The program, funded by a major grant from the California Endowment, provides stipends of $1,000 to core program participants. For more information or to apply, call Johnson at 510-273-0210 or e-mail The deadline is March 12.


* What: Oakland Voices Media Center open house and library’s unveiling of Umi Vaughan’s ceramic tile mural * Where: 1801 Adeline St., Oakland * When: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday* information: Christopher Johnson, 510-273-0210,

OV Press Release 1/28/10



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