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How El Tímpano’s feedback loop is designed to address community questions and amplify community voices

In mid-summer, El Tímpano received a gut-punch of a message from an audience member. In a text in Spanish, she told us, essentially, “you always write the same — call such and such number. But they don’t pick up… Pure lies.”

In her typed words was the exasperation El Tímpano has heard all year from so many community members — that the information we’re providing just isn’t cutting it. No one is picking up the phone when they call to schedule a COVID test. The legal aid clinic’s voicemail is full. The state’s unemployment office denied a claim with no explanation. And California’s cash assistance program for undocumented immigrants? …

How El Tímpano is listening and what we’re hearing from Oakland’s Latinx immigrants

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The waiting room at a resource clinic in East Oakland — one of the spaces where El Tímpano has conducted outreach with partners during the shelter-in-place order. (Photo by Henry Sales)

No puede uno trabajar. Lo están descansando y los biles y renta no esperan, pero si es por el bien de uno pues ni modo.

You can’t work. They are furloughing people and the bills and rent are due, but if it’s for your own good, what can you do?

It was the second week of March when Alameda County, along with six other Bay Area counties, announced a shelter-in-place order, suddenly bringing normal life to a halt. Businesses closed. Kids stayed home from school. Phrases like “social distancing” entered the vernacular.

While I had a host of questions about what this all meant, at least I could understand the information that public officials and government agencies were putting out. That is, at least I could speak English. Graphics and memes about hand washing had circulated online for weeks, but I struggled to find clear and simple guidance in Spanish. Not from the county health department. Not from the increasingly frequent newsletters from city leaders. Not on the Facebook pages of community organizations. Now that new policies regulating movement, business activity, and schooling would be enacted, it was clear that community news outlets like El Tímpano would have a big role to play in informing immigrant communities about this pandemic. …

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By Madeleine Bair & Sophie Lan Hou

Since El Tímpano’s founding in 2018, we’ve relied on the expertise of our audience to shape our work. Our editorial decisions and distribution strategies have been directly informed by listening, closely, to the Latinx immigrants of Oakland on everything from what they want a local news outlet to look like to what their greatest information needs are. Our team itself has grown as community members have learned about the initiative and asked to become a bigger part of it.

But we knew we needed to move beyond listening to community members. …

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Weekly texts with actionable news & information designed to address immigrants’ information needs

This blog was originally published on the Reynolds Journalism Institute website.

The fact that East Oakland is a media desert, particularly for immigrant residents, is clear. In the past two decades, the Latino immigrant community has grown faster than any other in the city. At the same time, options for Spanish-language news have diminished. For many of the Bay Area’s Latino immigrants, the daily half-hour news broadcasts from Univision and Telemundo, covering the entire 9-county region, are the extent of “local” news.

Figuring out how to fill that gap, though, is far from clear. …

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At a workshop facilitated by El Tímpano, residents indicated what sources they go to for information they can count on.

Author’s note: Originally published on the Reynolds Journalism Institute website.

Where do you get news and information that’s relevant to you?

That’s what El Tímpano asked hundreds of Latino immigrants in Oakland, California, during an information needs assessment we conducted throughout the past year. We also asked community organizers, educators and church leaders how they share information with the residents, parents and congregants they work with.

Before piloting a reporting outlet to serve Oakland’s Spanish-speaking immigrants, we wanted to hear from them first, rather than making any assumptions about what would be the best format to report about, with, and for this community. …

We asked hundreds of Latino immigrants in Oakland what they want in local news. This is what they told us.

In a church hall on an autumn weeknight, 14 residents and a half dozen public officials sit in folding chairs arranged in a circle. The meeting starts with a prayer, before launching into the issue at hand: the consistent build-up of trash on residential streets. One by one, in Spanish and English, residents describe the large piles of detritus they have passed when walking their children to school; the Saturday mornings they have spent cleaning their block, only to see it turn into a dump within a week. Oakland’s Director of Public Works explains what his department is doing about the issue, and the challenges it faces in making a dent in the problem. A long conversation ensues, with residents proposing alternative solutions, and a city council member chiming in to explain the difficulty in prosecuting illegal dumpers. …

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Women indicate what sources they go to for news and information, and how frequently they rely on them.

How El Tímpano asked a local community about the information they want, and what we learned in the process

This is the second in a series documenting our efforts to map the information needs of Oakland’s Latino immigrants. Click here for the first post on the climate of fear, misinformation and mistrust in media that we found in initial conversations with community leaders.

At first glance, Oakland may be seen as a city with a thriving Spanish-language media scene. There are as many as four bilingual newspapers distributed in certain parts of town. Turn the radio dial and you will hear Spanish on several AM and FM stations, and there is nightly news on both Univisión and Telemundo. …

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Image cropped from Nick Normal’s Flickr stream under cc license.

Information & Fear Among Oakland’s Latino Immigrant Community

When Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf announced impending ICE raids in Northern California last month, she landed in the national spotlight over the question of whether she abetted criminals by tipping them off to law enforcement plans.

But here in Oakland, the controversy over her decision centered around one issue: panic. Did the announcement cause more of it among the city’s immigrants? How can it be avoided? When Mayor Schaaf spoke to the press, she addressed the concern directly: “No quiero crear pánico” (”I don’t want to cause panic”) she said, explaining that sowing fear in immigrant communities is one of ICE’s tactics. …

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Innovation in Low-Tech News Delivery

When we think of the digital divide, we often think in terms of access. In the U.S., the number of people who lack internet access has shrunk, and is fairly the same for whites, blacks, and Latinos, according to the Pew Research Center. But access is distinct from use, and doesn’t account for nuances in usage patterns. My husband’s parents have access to the internet at home, but they rarely use it outside of checking in on old friendships on Facebook. …

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Community listening session for El Tímpano in Oakland.

I’m in Chicago this week at the second annual People Powered Publishing Conference, a convening organized by the Illinois Humanities Council to bring together the growing number of reporters who practice journalism in collaboration with their communities.

I’m thrilled to facilitate a Thursday morning session with amazing colleagues whose work inspires and informs my own. The objective is to highlight models and methodologies of community engagement that are informed by disciplines outside of journalism.

As someone who has been fortunate to straddle the fields of journalism and human rights advocacy, I have noticed cohorts from various fields working on the same challenge — how can we use new forms of storytelling to involve the community in our work — but attending different conferences, reading different Medium channels and Twitter feeds, and very often missing out on sharing models, tools, and approaches because there are few opportunities to bridge fields. The People Powered Publishing Conference recognizes the importance of cross-disciplinary pollination, and actively encourages sessions that bring fresh perspectives to those of us working on community-engaged journalism. …


Madeleine Bair

Journalist & civic media innovator. Oakland native. News junkie. Cumbiambera.

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