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Telling the stories of an Oakland 'hood

February 10, 2005

Photo of Glenda Castro and Ninh Nguyen comparing answers at an advance ESL class at the Neighborhoo Centers Adult School in the Lower San AntonioThe most ethnically diverse neighborhood in the country -- the Lower San Antonio district in Oakland, according to the 1990 Census -- will soon have a special magazine focused on the people, places and issues of its community, with all the articles and photographs by SFSU students.

Making Connections: Oakland, a 40-page, ad-free glossy magazine, is the product of a partnership between last fall's Public Journalism course and the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The foundation is investing $10 million in Lower San Antonio over 10 years with a variety of projects to help families and improve community resources. It awarded the SFSU Journalism Department a $20,000 grant to cover printing and distribution costs.

Photo of ESL instructor Bruce Moscovich showing student Tan Van Dinh an English pronounciation exerciseEach fall Venise Wagner, assistant professor of journalism, selects one marginalized community for her Public Journalism class to explore. Students utilize principles of "public" or "civic" journalism, which calls for reporting directly from the perspectives of citizens of the community, as opposed to relying on elected officials, department heads and experts as sources.

"At metro dailies, there's often a reluctance to let people tell their own stories, and too much reliance on officials and experts to explain what's going on in specific neighborhood," Wagner said in a recent San Francisco Chronicle article on the class. "I got frustrated that the local perspectives weren't being given more weight."

Lower San Antonio is a low-income, working-class section by East Oakland. Half of its residents were born outside of the United States.

"No one in San Francisco has heard of this area, but what's really striking is how no one in Oakland knows where it is," Jeff Hunt said in the article. "It's like an unwanted stepchild, split between Districts 2 and 5, so neither district pays it much attention."

Wagner, a former reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Examiner, is also trying to erase the stereotypes and stigmas that her students face when covering marginalized communities. Most of the 16 students in this course came from "middle-class" backgrounds, she said. Some feared venturing into this kind of a neighborhood, and many struggled to engage Lower San Antonio residents once they arrived.

"What's important to me is making sure that students get rid of fearing going into these communities, but are able to report on the nuances and complexities instead of stereotypes," Wagner said.

Late this month about 3,500 copies of Making Connections: Oakland will be published and distributed throughout Lower San Antonio and given to Oakland community leaders and government officials.

-- Matt Itelson
Photos: Johanna Luddy


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Last modified February 10, 2005 by University Communications