East Palo Alto residents launched their own news service on Tuesday, April 28, in an effort to cover the city's news and events in meaningful ways that other media outlets have ignored.
The site, EPANow.us, is bringing together resident journalists, videographers, photographers and others to tell the stories of East Palo Alto with the help of a Stanford University John S. Knight Fellow in journalism and a local cinematographer.
Jeremy Hay, a journalist with 20 years of experience, is spearheading the project. He is co-director with East Palo Alto native and cinematographer Future Mashack.
With its focus on giving the community a voice, EPANow is hoping to offer a brand of news delivery that sets it apart from other local media outlets, Hay said.
"People in East Palo Alto are less interested in how other media covers and perceives them and are more interested in being able to cover themselves and reflect themselves," he said.
"We're hoping to rock that boat ... Just because we're EPA just because we're small, just because we're local doesn't mean we can't be completely 'dope,' as the young 'uns say."
The new website reflects that goal, with its links to pages such as "Whats' Up!?" and "Speak Yo Mind!" There's a video on skateboard culture; coverage of Stand Up EPA, a community march against gentrification; a report on East Palo Alto housing pressures; and coverage of the reopening of the David Lewis Re-Entry Center for parolees. An arts section has a video on the creative process behind a mural project at Jack Farrell Park.
"My original goal as a Knight Fellow was to find ways to improve coverage of low-income communities," Hay said.
Working for the Tenderloin Times in San Francisco in 1992, he became interested in helping communities that are marginalized in one way or another.
"I saw in the Tenderloin how important local news was to a community in helping to sustain it," he said.
Hay has worked as a reporter and editor for the St. Helena Star, for Wired as a freelancer and for the Press Democrat in Santa Rosa for 13 years. He was the editorial director of the bilingual public radio show, Voice of Youth.
When he came to Stanford, Hay approached the East Palo Alto nonprofit organization Live In Peace to gauge how media coverage of East Palo Alto could be better. At one point, the group asked Hay to help it start something in the city.
Hay said he jumped at the chance.
"When individuals and the community see themselves in the space that a media outlet can create, it creates a sense of community and can create a sense of purpose," he said.
Hay is quick to stress that he is not the owner of this enterprise or even its bandleader.
"It's something my work as a fellow has involved me in, but it's very much East Palo Alto's project that I feel very lucky to be involved in and participate in," he said.
EPANow is encouraging city leaders and residents to come forward with issues they feel are important to cover in meaningful ways. The news outlet wants to take up and broaden those discussions, Hay said.
While the goal is to celebrate the richness of culture, brains and creativity in East Palo Alto, Hay said the news organization will also cover some of the more difficult issues.
"It's not to say that we won't ever cover something bad. But we can talk about the longer trend in depth and can bring out the stories behind it," he said.
EPANow will complement the city's other current news organizations the new Ravenswood Magazine and veteran East Palo Alto Today. Hay said all three organizations speak to different audiences through different means, and he hopes to collaborate with East Palo Alto Today and Ravenswood Magazine in various ways.
Henrietta Burroughs, East Palo Alto Today founder and publisher, will be on EPANow's advisory board, he said.
The organization currently has a fluctuating, part-time core group of five to 10 people, mostly between the ages of 15 and 30. Some do video editing, others are behind the camera and some are reporters. Hay is serious that they will receive journalism training.
"All of the talents that make up journalism are already in play in East Palo Alto," he said.
If knowledge is power, EPANow hopes to bring both to the community.
"Media infrastructure should be a key utility, like gas or water," Hay said. "It gives the residents power. It allows residents a means to assert their own power."