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In L.A.'s Boyle Heights, hyperlocal news comes in print

Photo by By the__photographer/Flickr (Creative Commons)

An interesting experiment in bilingual journalism is taking place east of the L.A. River in Boyle Heights, this one with a sweetly old-fashioned component: a print edition.

The Boyle Heights Beat, or El Pulso de Boyle Heights in Spanish, launched this weekend. It's a collaboration between the USC Annenberg journalism school and La Opinión and is reported by 14 neighborhood high school students, kids tapped from Roosevelt High School, the Mendez Learning Center, Puente Learning Center, and the Boyle Heights Technology Academy.

It's the second hyperlocal news site of this sort launched in less than a year by USC Annenberg, which last year launched the Alhambra Source, an online community newspaper in English, Spanish and Mandarin.

But the demographics are different in Boyle Heights, a longtime immigrant port of entry that for the last several decades has been predominantly Latino. While Latinos are active smartphone users, they generally have less Internet access than other groups, hence the old-fashioned distribution approach. A tabloid print edition in Spanish and English, delivered to residents this weekend by La Opinión, compliments an English-language online edition.

The latter has nifty extras like a scrolling bar titled "¡Enterate!" (Find Out!), with bits of local history like these:

Did you know that the Linda Vista Hospital was called the Santa Fe Railroad Hospital in 1938 and originally served railroad employees?

Did you know that Marilyn Monroe was born in LAC+USC Medical Center on June 1, 1926?

Did you know that Canter’s, the famous Jewish deli in the Fairfax district, had its beginnings in Boyle Heights?

Did you know that the Breed Street Shul, built in 1923, was the first Jewish synagogue on the West coast?

Did you know that Occidental College was started in 1887 here in Boyle Heights, off Rowan Street?

Did you know that between the 1920's and 1950's, Boyle Heights was considered the most diverse neighborhood in Los Angeles? There were Jewish, Russian, Japanese and Mexican immigrants living here. To this day, there are still Buddhist temples and Japanese restaurants and shops.

I knew three out of six of those. The inaugural edition features stories on the proposed razing and rebuilding of the giant landmark Wyvernwood apartment complex, the reported drop in violent crime and how the economy is hurting the musicians of Boyle Heights' famed Mariachi Plaza.

The project is funded by the California Endowment and is co-edited by La Opinión's executive editor Pedro Rojas and USC Annenberg's Michelle Levander. Here's what one of the teen reporters said about the experience on the USC Annenberg site:

“It’s been pretty hectic, but I guess I see it as preparing me for life and learning to put priorities first,” said Franklin Granados, a 17-year-old junior at Mendez Learning Center who has lived in Boyle Heights since he was 9. “Right now I’d probably be relaxing with my friends and not doing much with my time, but instead I’m being productive. It’s more important than just messing around.”

The community newspaper model, which one might argue is the original hyperlocal news, has been a longtime fixture in Eastside neighborhoods. Many of these are covered by the small local papers published by Eastern Group Publications.