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Oct. 25, 2016, 10:36 a.m.
Reporting & Production

The 74 is getting into Spanish-language education reporting, starting in Los Angeles

“I’m not just looking for someone who is able to interview in Spanish. I want someone who is a native Spanish speaker, who really knows this community and its needs around education.”

The small Los Angeles-based education site LA School Report is relaunching today under the auspices of The 74, alongside a mirror site in Spanish which will attempt to dive further into original Spanish-language education reporting. The 74, an education news site cofounded by former CNN anchor Campbell Brown, had absorbed the four-and-a-half year old LA School Report — which had previously been a tiny but consistent presence in coverage of the Los Angeles Unified School District — in February.

“It was a natural fit to have them merge into The 74, as we were looking to ramp up our presence in terms of our West Coast reporting, and we’re already big admirers of the work that LA School Report was doing, really owning that Los Angeles education beat,” Romy Drucker, cofounder and CEO, told me. “This is at a time that Los Angeles was emerging as a leading reform story — a new superintendent, Michelle King, had just taken over. There were a number of court cases had that had their root in California: Vergara v. California, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. We saw an opportunity to work closely with them as they run the day-to-day of LA School Report and also serve as The 74’s sort of West Coast bureau, keeping us in the loop as the boots on the ground there.”

Some controversy has swirled around the takeover. Accusations of bias have shadowed The 74’s work since its founding last July, largely due to what critics see as its pro–charter school, anti–teachers union stance. (A number of charter-supporting foundations are among The 74’s funders, and Brown herself has been involved in litigation seeking to overturn New York’s teacher tenure laws.)

The 74 provided the resources to redesign the site, with an eye towards making it more video and social friendly. In addition to its existing three full-time reporters, the four-and-a-half year old LA School Report is bringing on two more Spanish-speaking reporters to bulk up its mirror site with some additional enterprise reporting.

“You can’t tell the story of education in Los Angeles from a white-only, English-only, ivory tower bureaucracy, downtown-district-headquarters point of view — this has been a goal of mine ever since I took over at LA School Report. I’ve said from the beginning, I have to have Spanish-language and a reporter embedded in those communities,” Laura Greanias, the new(ish) executive editor of LA School Report, told me. “I’m not just looking for someone who is able to interview in Spanish. I want someone who is a native Spanish speaker, who really knows this community and its needs around education.”

Spanish is the most spoken non-English language in the U.S., with 36.7 million Latinos in this country speaking Spanish at home (though younger Latinos born in the U.S. increasingly speak only English — or speak English “very well” — at home). In Los Angeles, 74 percent of LAUSD students are Latino, and Spanish is the primary language for 93 percent of the students in the district who are learning to speak English proficiently.

The value, then, of education-focused outlets reporting in Spanish seems clear. In Los Angeles, the L.A. Times has greatly expanded its local education coverage, bolstered by foundation funding (which has provoked a some handwringing), and translates stories into Spanish. National outlets like Chalkbeat translate relevant stories. Indiana public broadcaster WNIN has a bilingual program and host focused on reporting for the Latino community. Univision has bilingual reporters working on education coverage (Univision Educación, with $2.1 million support from the Gates Foundation). And, of course, local Spanish-language media like L.A.’s daily La Opinión cover education.

Compared to other bigger shops in the county, LA School Report’s (slash The 74’s) Spanish-language efforts are still small in scope, though it is what Drucker describes as “the first and only Spanish-language education news site in Los Angeles.” The English-language site is running two to four pieces each day, and the Spanish version of the site initially won’t translate all of them. “But once we get the site going and start figuring out the interests of our audience, we’re planning to ramp up from there,” she said. Translating news explainers is high on the priority list. The sites will also be running a selection of each other’s stories.

“There’s been a healthy cross-pollination. We have reporters in New York and D.C. working on California stories, and we have stories the LA School Report team is working on that definitely feel like national stories, and have a national lens and are relevant to the work happening in other districts. But the focus 100 percent remains on the LA news story,” Drucker added. “In some ways, LA School Report will be kind of a pilot to see if we want to see if we want to take the translation work we’re doing there and apply it on a broader scale at The 74.”

“We’re not a bureau. I run LA School Report. I make the decisions. I’m the one doing all the editorial direction, but The 74 is a fantastic support for me,” Greanias said. (She reports to Drucker and The 74’s editorial director Steve Snyder.) Mitchell Trinka, The 74’s social media and engagement director, embedded in L.A. for a full month, running a boot camp for Greanias and another one of LASR’s reporters, and the relaunched sites will have their own tailored social presences in both English and Spanish. At launch, The 74 was bullish about video, and Greanias is eager to bring that to her Los Angeles coverage.

“Video is something I would like to do and they already do well,” Greanias said. “I don’t have anyone on staff dedicated to it at the moment, but we’ve looked at some freelance work out here, and I know quite a few photographers and videographers who’ve said they’re interested in working with us.”

To spread the word about the LA School Report relaunch, the team is also holding a community event Tuesday at East Los Angeles College with representation from parent groups in the area. (Richard Whitmire, whose book on the history of “the best of the best” public charter schools was published by The 74, will be in attendance, Greanias and Drucker both made sure to point out.)

“Both news sites are mission-focused on what is in the best interest of students,” Drucker said, when I asked about concerns of bias, especially with LA School Report en Español as one of the few Spanish-language resources out there. “I would say that folks should read and check out both sites. Both have taken on special interests across the educational establishment, and both sites have positive and negative things to say about actors and forces across the sector.”

POSTED     Oct. 25, 2016, 10:36 a.m.
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