A new website has recently entered the online news arena, providing critical information to the residents of Alhambra, a small city located a few miles east of downtown Los Angeles. And it's doing so in multiple languages.

The Alhambra Source is a collective endeavor between professional journalists, University of Southern California researchers and students, high school reporters, web designers and locals. The site covers news, politics, people, art, and events in Alhambra.

A unique aspect of the Source is its multilingual format, which is intended to serve the city's mixed population of Asians, Latinos and whites. Staff writers translate news articles from Mandarin Chinese and Spanish to English and vice versa. The articles are aggregated from select media outlets, such as the Chinese language newspaper World Journal and the Spanish-language daily La Opinión. The staff also uses Google Translate, an online program that converts text from one language to another, to aid in translation.

The Source was designed to create local news, cross ethnic divides and investigate ways new media can serve a diverse local community, managing editor Daniela Gerson said.

Alhambra residents and local high school students contribute content. A section called Youth Feed seeks to train local high school students in the fundamentals of journalism, teaching them to use multimedia tools in their reporting. During the summer, six students took part in a video project that documented the changing demographics of Alhambra's Main Street, the city's primary thoroughfare.

“It's been really rewarding to have such a diverse group working together,” said Gerson. “From the first meeting, people were really excited to start the project.”

Daniela Gerson and Tim Ganter; Credit: Steve La

Daniela Gerson and Tim Ganter; Credit: Steve La

Gerson joined the Source in June 2009 and tapped web developers Ben Zhu and Tim Ganter to design the website.

“This could definitely be a model for other news sites in the country,” said Zhu, referring to the multilingual aspect of the Source. “I feel that it could be an important voice for the community.”

Michael Parks, a Pulitzer Prize winner and the former director of USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, originally conceived of the idea. He wanted to see how communities like Alhambra could benefit from local news coverage. Parks received funding to start the project from the Annenberg Foundation.

He collaborated with Sandra J. Ball-Rokeach, a USC communications professor. Ball-Rokeach, through her research, found that Alhambra had a low level of civic engagement. She also discovered that Alhambra was largely overlooked by local media; the city had just one newspaper, Around Alhambra, a small monthly distributed by the chamber of commerce.

Both Parks and Ball-Rokeach formed a joint research initiative to explore ways of building a local media outlet for the city. USC doctoral students formed focus groups in Alhambra to study where locals were getting their news. The data obtained from the focus groups was used to create the Alhambra Source.

“The entire process has been really exciting,” said Gerson. “Taking what has been in theory and making it into something that can have an impact on the community is great.”

Ganter, the web developer who is also an Alhambra resident, said people are beginning to Tweet about the young paper and happily endorsed the new media outlet. “It helps me get involved in the community.”

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