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 oaklandvoices@gmail.com. The deadline is March 12.

IF YOU GO

* 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, oaklandvoices@gmail.com

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