Local Filmmakers Report News From the 'Hood'

A lot of people complain that TV news doesn't report what really goes on in some LA neighborhoods. A pair of amateur filmmakers stopped complaining and started "Hood News." KPCC's Special Correspondent Kitty Felde spoke with them.

Kitty Felde: It's not your usual local TV newscast. There's no well-coifed anchor, no fancy news set. In fact, there's no set at all. It's just a couple of guys with a camera and a microphone out on the streets of Hawthorne, Inglewood, Long Beach, and South L.A.

Claude Jones: "Hood News" is good news. It gives you the truth. We stand for the truth. We answer the community's questions.

Felde: Claude Jones grew up on the mean streets of L.A. around Central and Florence. He's 24. His father was killed when he was three. In high school, Jones took a filmmaking class, but he didn't think much about it until he met Hassan Wells, a young man with a camera and a mission. Wells, who's 28, says he grew up in Watts during the height of the "crack era."

Hassan Wells: Looking up to dope dealers, they was our idols, you know. They was moving, they was making money, they was flashy, they was everything that a kid wanted to be. But we didn't know what they did. We knew they made a lot of money, though.

Felde: Wells chose a different path, several of them. First the military, then a few business classes at UCLA, then film school. Wells saw "Hood News" as a way to, as he puts it, "re-brainwash" folks in low-income neighborhoods to face the negative and move on.

Wells: For example, I've been out in Compton where a lady was murdered with an AK-47. She had a funeral. A candlelight vigil. And it was mostly women and children. Right? So it was nice we filmed that.

[Woman sings gospel song]

Then we got a call later on that night. The sheriffs had raided it, 'cause it was in Compton. South side, you know what I'm saying? A notorious gang area. But it was a candlelight vigil and they was wondering why there was like a couple hundred black people out there. So they came out, and they got shotguns, rifles, and they point them at the people. Now, mainstream news was there. They turned off their cameras.

Man 1 (shouting): Where were you at 135th and Avalon when these two black women were killed?
Man 2: We understand there was a memorial of some sort going on here...

Wells: What we do is we keep on our cameras and we report it to the community to show 'em this is what's going on. This is not right.

Felde: The stories are long, ten minutes or so, and typically critical of the police. It's not clear whether accusations on-camera are correct. But suggestions that the police rough up young men of color, or that businesses don't hire black men, aren't suggestions for "Hood News" viewers. They believe them.

"Hood News" stories sometimes highlight black and brown "brothers," an effort to defuse tensions between African-American and Latino communities. That's the opposite of what the mainstream media does, according to Claude Jones.

Jones: Looking from the outside in, their whole point of view of a situation can confuse the community as far as like Black and Brown violence, you know. They see one thing going on and report another and cause a little controversy between us.

Felde: Hassan Wells says "Hood News" gets story tips all the time.

Wells: People call and they say we have a story, something's going on. Why don't you guys check it out? We check our scanners, we look in the air and see helicopters.

Adam Powell: These people are going in and shooting what we would call spot news. And they're shooting it every day at the micro local level.

Felde: Adam Powell is Vice Provost for Globalization at USC and author of "Reinventing Local News." Powell says "Hood News" is similar to other "verite" forms of video production. Just about anyone, from the "Hood News" guys to junior high kids to older folks in retirement communities, can be a TV news crew.

Powell: Think back 10 years, it would have cost a lot of money to go out and videotape local news, and then edit it in a slick manner. Now you can do it on a laptop.

Felde: "Hood News" isn't broadcast on any mainstream media channel. It's sold one DVD at a time by Wells and Jones out in front of grocery stores, on street corners, wherever they can. They figure they've sold several thousand so far. And since this is a cyber savvy generation, "Hood News" is also available on both YouTube and MySpace, for free.

But "Hood News" is still relatively unknown. Its main target, the LAPD, hasn't even heard of it. That doesn't stop Hassan Wells and Claude Jones. They're working on their second DVD compilation of stories. Neither wants to work for local TV, unless they get editorial control. So they keep filming the stories they think should be shown on local TV, the stories you can only see on "Hood News."