Student newspapers go bilingual
For most student journalists, covering the news in English is challenging enough. But at a handful of schools across the country, students are leaping beyond expectations by publishing all or part of their publications in multiple languages.
Some have published bilingually for decades, but for other publications, going bilingual is a new experiment.
And with more and more schools requiring coursework in a second (or third, or fourth) language to graduate, multilingualism in the United States may be here to stay. About 20 percent of people over the age of 5 living in the United States speak a language other than English at home; 8.6 percent of people speak English “less than very well,” according to a 2009 survey by the U.S. Census Bureau.
At the University of Arizona in Tucson, El Independiente has published in both English and Spanish since its inception in 1976.
“Tucson, especially with its proximity to Mexico, is a largely Spanish-speaking area, and a lot of the residents who live there, if they’re not bilingual, then they’re mainly Spanish speaking,” explained Cassandra Weinman, who was news editor of El Independiente in the spring semester. “They’ve kind of been left out from other publications, so they’re literally, literally unable to read what’s being printed.”
El Independiente was founded by the university to help seniors complete their capstone projects in journalism. It serves the entire community of southern Tucson rather than just the college campus.
“They (South Tucson residents) didn’t want to know what was going on at U of A because it wasn’t affecting them,” Weinman said. “They wanted to know about what was going on in their neighborhood with their people, what they were doing.”
Weinman said the community has responded in a huge way to the multicultural and bilingual emphasis of El Independiente.
“If we didn’t [publish], people in south Tucson, which is where our target audience is, they would notice if the papers weren’t there,” Weinman said. “Every time I went someone would say, ‘Oh, I love your newspaper, it’s so great to hear about things going on, I had no idea.’ It’s definitely really gratifying to know that your work is being seen in such a positive way.”
At Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey, The Stillman Exchange has kept the campus updated on the business world for five years as the first dedicated undergraduate business publication in the country. In 2009, the staff attained another first by publishing their inaugural Chinese issue of the paper.
“Our Chinese exchange students are the largest population of foreign exchange students, so it made sense to pursue a bilingual publication in that language,” said Meg Reilly, managing editor of both the regular and bilingual editions of The Stillman Exchange.
The special bilingual editions of The Stillman Exchange provide the traditional business stories routinely covered in regular editions of the paper, but also provide commentary and analysis from the perspective of Chinese students attending business school in America.
“We also aim to educate the Seton Hall community on a deeper level. Anyone can regurgitate the afternoon headlines, and I fear sometimes that is what our regular edition has become,” Reilly said. “We have a Chinese perspective on Chinese news... but also with an American perspective woven in. Our news is truly unique and our readers certainly recognize it.”
When Galen Rosenberg started advising Los Altos High School’s newspaper, The Talon, in 1985, it was not yet a bilingual newspaper. But Rosenberg saw drawing a fractured community together as part of his job, and he thought including articles in Spanish could help.
“The population actually has become more ethnically balanced over the years, and more fully integrated, but when I started there it was still very much in a transition period,” he said. “So one of the goals of the paper was to make it more representative of the school as a whole.”
Initially, Rosenberg had trouble recruiting students who previously attended Mountain View High School, which had a large minority population before it was closed. He said he thought having students from different backgrounds would help ease the transition to a unified school.
“There’s still issues, obviously, but I think having a newspaper print in Spanish and having Spanish byline stories and having students from the neighborhoods of kids who had gone to the other high school was one of the key pieces of making the school feel like a place where everybody was an equal member,” he said.
Richard Campanaro, student media adviser at Eastside Memorial High School in Austin, Texas, faced similar issues. English is not the first language for many of his students, who come from places like Sierra Leone, Mexico and Nicaragua.
“For me it was just kind of like a marketing idea. Light bulb – like, duh, if 85 percent of your population speaks Spanish, why not?” he recounted. “And then I saw all the benefits of having a bilingual newspaper.”
For Campanaro, the ability to write stories in Spanish has been crucial to helping his students learn to write.
“It’s actually really useful because when you have a student who comes in and they don’t speak very much English, that shouldn’t be looked at as a bad thing... That’s actually a tool you can use,” Campanaro said. “If the student understands the skills, if they need to do it in Spanish first to really let it hit home, heck yeah!”
At Seton Hall, Reilly also found publishing bilingually to be productive for the both Chinese students who work on the special bilingual editions of The Stillman Exchange and the American students who read the paper.
“Aside from the great value that is provided to our reader community, the Chinese exchange students have an opportunity to share their voice and test it out in their second language,” Reilly said, referring to the students in a 1+2 program the Seton Hall University business school runs with a Chinese university.
The Chinese students who write in both Chinese and English learn a lot, but Reilly said American students also take the opportunity to practice their language skills when reading the bilingual editions.
“Even students in our Chinese language program have found great value in our bilingual releases and learn a lot more about the Chinese people and culture than they could ever read in a book,” Reilly said.
Speaking their minds
At some schools, going bilingual has given students a unique opportunity to use their voices and share their stories in their own languages.
“I have teachers who say [my students] are not going to be able to do it. And I say, ‘No, they can do it, it just depends on whether you want to get out of your seat and really teach that student how to do it and not just rely on their pre-existing skills,’” Campanaro said. “A lot of these kids, for the first time, they’re saying, ‘I think this is my thing. I really like writing, I really like going out and meeting people, and I love doing interviews and I love seeing myself in the paper.’”
Campanaro encourages his students to write for the paper, the yearbook and the literary magazine to share their stories and publicize the things they are passionate about.
“The literary magazine... it’s a very emotionally charged class because I think everybody’s got a story. I think the newspaper as well has exposed them to new issues,” he said. “I had a freshman looking up state legislation and he found something that he was really impassioned by... and so he wrote a letter to his congressman and we published it in the paper. He saw it in the paper and everyone was going up to him and patting him on the back, and he was like, ‘This feels great.’”
For Chinese students working on the bilingual edition of The Stillman Exchange, writing for the paper is often their first taste of expression without government intervention, and the first chance to truly speak their minds.
“The great thing about our bilingual publication is that we give our students some of their first opportunities to write in ‘free press,’” Reilly said. “In China, publications are often censored by the government or forced [to be] biased.”
In fact, The Stillman Exchange was subject to such censorship when they tried to mail a box of newspapers to the students’ hometowns in China.
“[W]e used to ship a box of our bilingual releases to China for our students’ family and friends to enjoy,” Reilly said. “Unfortunately, our issues never made it to their final destination due to censorship by the government, and we discontinued shipping issues that would never make it anyway.”
While the small number of bilingual student publications may be ahead of the curve, they also face unique challenges. None of these four newspapers have been able to publish entirely in a second language.
Weinman estimates each edition of El Independiente is between 30 and 50 percent bilingual.
“In an ideal world we would be able to put everything in Spanish as we did in English, but with time constraints and deadlines and all that stuff we have to pick and choose the stories that we feel are most important and that need to be out there for all of our readers to grasp,” she said.
Stories for El Independiente are often written in English by non-Spanish speakers and then translated by volunteers from the Spanish language department at the University of Arizona. Because of the extra step in the editing and production process, Weinman said it simply isn’t feasible for them to publish more articles in Spanish.
“We try and find the stories [to translate] that we feel are most applicable,” Weinman said. “For example, in the last issue we did this past year, there was a good piece on the HPV virus, which apparently is pretty prevalent in Latina women. So we made sure to translate that in Spanish because it’s something that as a newsroom, we felt the information should be out there easily.”
The Stillman Exchange goes through an equally rigorous organization, translation and editing process as El Independiente. The editor of the special edition, a Chinese student, assigns articles. Once stories are assigned, they are written by in Chinese and translated back into English. Two different editors then review each story in both Chinese and English, to make sure the changes align. A professor fluent in both Chinese and English double-checks the edits.
“There is certainly a challenge in preparing the bilingual editions, and that is why we have significantly less releases than our regular edition,” Reilly said. “The editing process can seem tedious at the surface, but is necessary to ensure that the translations not only make sense but follow the same tone.”
Campanaro’s biggest issue has been maintaining a staff and giving them the confidence to publish consistently up to his professional standards. A graduate of Texas Tech University and a former professional journalist, he started teaching at Eastside Memorial High School two years ago amidst tumultuous change.
“We’re on the east side of Austin, which is... underserved, underprivileged kind of kids from really low-income areas. They see it as ghetto, and they’ve kind of embraced that ghetto mentality,” he said. “A lot of these kids, the nature, the culture of the school, there’s a lot of excuse makers. Everybody thinks because they have hardships that rules don’t apply to them.”
Countering these ideas and low academic expectations is one of Campanaro’s jobs, and he holds his journalism students to high expectations. They use the same tests and materials that college students use. He wrangled the necessary computer and camera equipment out of the school’s budget so their publications will look professional.
“I’d have about 45 kids in a class, very few of them were at grade level writing or reading-wise. None of them had any experience,” he said. “It was just kind of a scramble to get it done, and we did. It was a great experience, and then I have that benchmark to say ‘Okay, here’s our gauge, look at what we want with the returning students... what can we do better next time?’”
As difficult as getting the paper off the ground has been, Campanaro pushes his students to put out the best product they can, no matter what the circumstances.
“What I try to do is to emulate the program that I was taught in. I basically focus on – look, you’re only going to be judged by what people see,” Campanaro said. “You’re judged by the final product, so that’s going to be the basis for how successful you are in this class. And I really put the burden on them to create something.”
Back at Los Altos High School, The Talon no longer publishes bilingually.
Current Talon adviser Michael Moul said he felt publishing bilingually was not really fixing the problem it was intended to solve: to help integrate two different groups at the school and make sure everyone was being represented.
“My feeling was that if we really want to cover our entire population on campus, we need to be actually covering that population instead of just translating two articles an issue and calling it done,” Moul explained. “So my feeling was let’s really work to the heart of this issue as opposed to just kind of Band-Aid fixing it with translation.”
Moul’s goal is to get more multilingual students on his staff to better represent the school’s diversity. However, he is not opposed to reinstating bilingual issues of the paper in the future.
“The battle I’m fighting right now is to get more of that other half of the campus represented on our staff,” he said. “Once we’ve sort of made steps towards that, then I feel like that staff can decide whether they feel like that’s a necessary thing.”
Weinman said she felt that in addition to providing a service for the local community, the sprinkling of bilingual newspapers currently in existence are a glimpse of media’s future.
“I know people are resistant because there’s the argument that English, you know, ‘This is the U.S., we should all speaking English.’ But there’s absolutely nothing wrong with letting another group in on all the amazing things that are being offered not only in Arizona but across the U.S.,” she said. “I guess it’s up to the whole system to just change and start understanding that there is a larger community out there.”
By Emily T. Gerston, SPLC staff writer
Fall 2011, reports