A peek at how we organized our research into overcrowding’s impact on health using a virtual whiteboard with plenty of digital post-its.

From icebergs to feedback loops, El Tímpano intern Sonya Lustig details how we’re working to understand this largely invisible crisis

By Sonya Lustig

Three months ago, El Tímpano began investigating the prevalence of overcrowded housing in Oakland’s Latino and Mayan immigrant communities and how those housing conditions affect the health of residents, throughout and beyond the current COVID-19 pandemic.

We knew from the start that this project demanded an unconventional approach to reporting. The crisis of overcrowded housing — particularly as it affects undocumented immigrants and intersects with public health — touches upon a web of public policies, economic structures, and social idealogies that cannot be neatly separated from one another. …


Community is at the heart of El Tímpano, our mission, and how we work. We began not by launching a website but by building relationships within Oakland’s Latino and Mayan immigrant communities, and working with residents, community leaders, and local partners to design local news with and for those communities. In the process, we gained not only audience members but longtime collaborators, staff, and trusted advisors.

These relationships are our greatest asset. Today, we are excited to announce El Tímpano’s advisory council, composed of a number of individuals who believe in El Tímpano’s vision of community-centered local news, and have…


Photo by Garrick Wong from a 2018 Journalism+Design workshop on the Bay Area’s housing crisis.

Examining the crisis before our eyes, and those that have been brewing behind closed doors

When Orlando Ruiz’s brother brought COVID-19 home from his janitorial job in May, self-isolation was out of the question. He lives in a house in East Oakland with his parents, brothers, and their families. Within days, four family members were sick with the virus, three of them hospitalized, including Ruiz’s father, who spent two weeks at Highland Hospital before returning home.

It’s a story that has repeated itself throughout Latino and Mayan immigrant households of East Oakland, which has seen some of the highest rates of the virus in the Bay Area. As a reporting lab serving these communities, El…


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…


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

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…


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. …


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. …


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…


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. …

Madeleine Bair

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

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