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(NORTHRIDGE, Calif., Jan. 30, 2007) -- Southern California has one of the largest Spanish-speaking communities in the nation. Yet media coverage of that community can be sporadic, often marked by stereotypes or lack of understanding of its nuances.
At the same time, the Los Angeles area is home to one of the largest Spanish-language media markets in the country. Trained journalists who understand the market and the community are in demand.
In an effort to meet that need, Cal State Northridge last semester officially launched the only interdisciplinary minor in Spanish-language journalism in the nation.
"The minor is designed to prepare our students to work in both English- and Spanish-language media," said assistant journalism professor José Luis Benavides, director of the program. "The ultimate goal is to improve the coverage of Latino, Spanish-speaking communities."
The program explores Latino-oriented media, Spanish-language communities in the Los Angeles area and the way in which the media have historically covered those communities.
In addition to journalism classes, the minor includes courses in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literature, the Chicano/a Studies Department and the Central American Studies Program. The Scripps Howard Foundation has provided the program with a $25,000 grant to support its growth, and last summer awarded two students--one in print and the other in broadcast journalism--paid internships.
"We hope to give students an appreciation and better understanding of the Spanish-language media and of the Latino community as a whole," Benavides said. "Realistically, if you want to be a good reporter in the United States today and in the future, you are going to need skills that will help you navigate its rich cultural diversity."
Twenty students already have signed up for the minor and about 40 more are taking courses in the program. Benavides said he expects even more students to enroll as word about the minor spreads.
"Employers from English- and Spanish-language media are dying to hire people who are bilingual and appreciative of another culture," Benavides said. "Bilingual competency may vary, but the fact that these young journalists are comfortable in more than one culture and understand the Spanish-language community makes them a hot commodity."
He said a Los Angeles Times reporter recently told his students that while the newspaper is responsible for covering one of the largest Latino populations in the United States, few of its reporters speak Spanish.
"On the flip side, Spanish-language media realize that they need reporters who are familiar with and comfortable reporting on the various institutions in the United States, from courts and police to all that make this country unique," Benavides said.
Irantzu Pujadas, a researcher and assistant producer with KCET’s acclaimed educational series "Los Niños En Su Casa," said she sees a growing demand for journalists with multicultural training. Pujadas, 27, who graduated from CSUN last June with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, took many of the program’s classes before it received formal approval as a minor.
"There is absolutely no question that someone who has this training--both in understanding and appreciating the Spanish-language media and understanding and appreciating the culture--will be in great demand in the future," she said. "They are in demand now."
Originally from Spain, Pujadas, said the Spanish-language media classes gave her a greater understanding of the market in the United States as well as an appreciation for a culture that may have been overlooked by the traditional American media market.
Orange County Register reporter Salvador Hernandez agreed. Hernandez, 24, who graduated from CSUN in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, also took Spanish-language media classes during the program’s initial development. He said what he learned made him more marketable when looking for a job after graduation, and a better reporter.
"I learned not only the history of Spanish-language media in the United States, but the role it has played over the years in the community and the influence it has had on the development of the region and its citizens, not only the Spanish-speaking ones," Hernandez said.
"The reality is that the demographics of this country are changing, and the media is desperately trying to change to keep up with them and trying to reach or create new markets," he said. "The change is happening so fast, I think for any university not to have a program like this is a mistake."
California State University, Northridge has 34,500 full- and part-time students and offers 62 bachelor’s and 50 master’s degrees as well as 28 teaching credential programs. Founded in 1958, CSUN is among the largest single-campus universities in the nation and the only four-year public university in the San Fernando Valley. The university serves as the intellectual, economic and cultural heart of the Valley and beyond.
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