The collaboration between the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, community organizations, news outlets, and a local high school as part of our program Storytelling in South LA resulted in some lessons learned and more than six stories on jobs programs, redevelopment, and housing initiatives broadcast and in news outlets with a combined reach in the tens of thousands.
Guided by the Metamorphosis Project’s theory about strengthening the connections between community organizations, local ethnic media, and residents, we worked to;
The process taught us about connecting community practitioners to journalists to report solutions-oriented stories;
Key Highlights of the Program
To help develop solutions-oriented coverage, we started with one of many reports that came out after the riots. The McCone Report found that while police action with the apprehension of a young African American man named Marquette Frye may have been the trigger, the cause of the riots was inequality, citing among other issues a lack of affordable housing, health care, and jobs.
After studying the report, we wanted to ask people what they thought were problems today. USC Journalism students and Augustus Hawkins High School students, located in an area heavily impacted by the 1965 and 1992 riots near Vermont and Slauson avenues, interviewed dozens of residents, who cited transportation, education, jobs, policing and housing as problems they still saw today.
Next we worked with community organizations tackling some of these issues, we trained the organizational leaders to help them identify solutions-oriented story ideas that appeal to reporters, and had them pitch to reporters (read more about the two workshops here).
Relationships Formed and Stories Produced
The topic of redevelopment and public space is a good example of how the collaboration developed. At the initial organization workshop Saundra Bryant, executive director of All Peoples Community Center, shared that buildings burnt to the ground in 1965 or 1992 were just now being rebuilt into grocery stores. Andres Ramirez, an organizer with Community Health Councils, added that empty land was being reused to create public spaces. The activation of the empty spaces would become a topic of great interest for reporters.
Reporters from LA Wave, KPCC, and Intersections South LA picked up the pitch about the repurposing of empty lots and ran with stories that reached hundreds of thousands of people to highlight on redevelopment efforts.
The issue of jobs also illustrates the impact a bridging program like this can have. At the time of the initial workshop, Kirsten Grimm, the deputy director of the Coalition for Responsible Community Development (CRCD), had been working to get word out about a job training program to train unemployed individuals for jobs. With no dedicated communications officer, she expressed frustration with contacting the media. Meanwhile Brian Watt, a reporter on jobs from KPCC, had just received a report documenting that while unemployment dropped in the city overall, levels remained high in South Los Angeles. Meeting with Grimm introduced him to a solutions-oriented approach to reporting on joblessness. Three news outlets wrote about the problem of unemployment and job training in South LA – and how the CRCD’s WorkSource program at Los Angeles Trade Tech is trying to remedy that.
Other stories ran on front pages of Hoy, La Opinion, LA Sentinel and LA Wave, the print outlets of the project. The stories did well on social media, including a story on empty lots converted into playgrounds that received 2885 shares 10 days after airing.
The connection between media and organizations was only the first step, as anniversary coverage ramps up.
On April 23, we hosted a forum at USC Annenberg with Erin Aubry Kaplan and her father Larry Aubry, both long-term South LA residents who have written on race and divides in the area. In attendance were reporters from all participating news outlets, and a speed brainstorming session to facilitate news stories.
Dozens of new story ideas emerged, from creating more rent control in the face of increasing gentrification to the need for job training programs that goes beyond blue collar work to high tech jobs. Hopefully these will be part of the conversation as well when in August we remember Watts from fifty years ago, and have an opportunity to reflect not only on why it happened, but also the good things that have happened and still need to happen.