All views expressed here are my own. I'm not speaking on behalf of anyone, including Andrew and Azusa City News. Photo courtesy of Adrian Magallanes.
Wow it’s been a while since I’ve written, and I feel like I’ll do a life update at a later time. For now, I want to talk about a recent event that would’ve been too long for a Facebook post: I joined my city’s unofficial news source, Azusa City News. I’m still not sure how long I’ll stay in Azusa, but I probably won’t leave the nest in a couple of years. During this time, I hope to get Azusa City News on its way to becoming more official.
Let me explain.
There are a lot of publications and news sources around Southern California, but for Azusa’s corner of the East San Gabriel Valley, people have a few options to get local news specific to our community, among them:
Los Angeles Times
San Gabriel Valley Tribune
San Gabriel Valley Examiner (edited by a former Azusa mayor)
Azusa Beacon, which is actually mostly stories about Monrovia and Duarte
Southern California Public Radio/KPCC
The Azusa City cable channels to watch city meetings, which I only recently learned was actually a thing
Student media at Azusa Pacific University and Citrus College
LA Weekly, though Azusa coverage was rare even before layoffs
The various TV news affiliates for the Los Angeles market
There might be a few others that I’m missing, but I’m highlighting the sources above because these aren’t news sources whose sole focus is on the people of Azusa. While it's always good to know what other cities are doing, news outlets these days are running on tight budgets and cannot afford to do as much deep reporting on multiple communities as needed. A few of the sources above haven’t made the smooth transition to digital (though to be fair, not everyone in Azusa has frequent access to the Internet).
Enter Andrew Mendez, a long-time Azusa resident who created a Facebook Page in 2014 that originally covered just the Azusa Police and Fire Department but also expanded to include community announcements and events. When I decided to make a comeback to journalism (again, more on that in a different post), I wanted to help Andrew continue to grow Azusa City News into something that can better serve our hometown.
This is because not having a community news source is a problem for a few reasons.
Community is Built on Information
One of the most important classes I took while at USC was a course on ethnic media in urban areas. We looked at various newspapers covering Los Angeles’ diverse neighborhoods and ethnic communities, from Filipino newspapers to South LA newsletter. I learned that such publications are crucial to communities because they inform their audiences of relevant issues and events, from explaining city elections to highlighting business. Especially in regards to non-English media, these local news sources are the resource for people to check how they can be civically engaged such as registering to vote.
Like I said, Azusa residents don’t really have an option to learn about news specific to our town. We have a city Facebook group where people can post questions about after school programs or to reminisce about Azusa businesses that are no longer running, but until Andrew created the Azusa City News Facebook Page, our town didn’t have anything. The fact that nearly 7,800 people are following that page indicates that there is interest and need for a news source tailored specifically for Azusa residents.
Diverse Communities Can Understand One Another
The Alhambra Source was USC Annenberg’s quasi-experiment on what I just talked about. This outlet, which recently became its own non-profit and is partly running by awesome USC alumna Phoenix Tso, has its news translated across the three languages predominantly spoken in the area: English, Spanish and Chinese. The idea is that by overcoming the language barrier for immigrants who still struggle with English, Alhambra residents and public officials are more in tune to the needs and concerns across the whole community. In turn, this allows for people to work towards solutions that can better serve the needs of all residents
According to the most recent estimate, Azusa’s population is growing and it’s very close to having 50,000 residents. While Azusa is still predominantly Hispanic/Latinx and White, its Asian-identifying population is also quickly growing. Having a news source allows people to have a more comprehensive view of the changes happening around the city and newer residents can be more in tune with their new home.
Local News Holds Local Officials Accountable
As Thomas Jefferson once said, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
Growing up, I didn’t know who was on City Council or even who was on the Azusa Unified School District Board. Part of this is because my family mostly kept to themselves and only paid attention to ballot issues a few days before election day, part of this is also because I focused more on Los Angeles and national politics in journalism school. But not paying attention to public officials and city issues is a mistake, especially now that Azusa is losing its sole post office and AUSD student enrollment has been declining since I graduated in 2013.
Helping residents understand who is in office and policies that will affect the community is important in ensuring that local government continues to serve its people.
Local News Highlights the Smaller Things That Matter
You might not ever see Azusa kids featured on Good Morning America for getting into college, but every student who makes it into a four-year university is a victory for our town. Carmen’s or BBQ Chicken & Ribs never got featured on the Food Network, but they were beloved establishments before they closed their doors for good. Perhaps the Azusa Golden Days parade isn’t enough to make the front page of the Los Angeles Times, but it’s a big part of our community and high school bands from around the region still compete in the parade review.
Bigger news sources can’t always cover these moments of small town life, but that doesn’t diminish the value these stories have for small town residents.
I’m a recent college grad with student debt from a private university working 40+ hours a week as a digital content freelancer. I also contribute to other publications, and I'm trying to find my way back into journalism. Andrew Mendez, God bless him, also works full-time, has a family with kids, and is planning to someday get his B.A. in journalism and political science. (Annenberg and Unruh readers, take note. Andrew is an SC legacy).
In order for Azusa City News to grow from a Facebook page to into something that can serve even more people in Azusa, this has to be a community effort. So, if any Azusans read this and have a talent for writing or are willing to learn new skills, I definitely encourage you to reach out to volunteer.
There was a time when I couldn’t wait to move out of Azusa, but I’ve grown to love this Canyon City. There are a lot of issues worth public attention and many great stories here.
I look forward to telling them.