Ethnic Media Probe Air Pollution in California

Mar 262007

By Rob Taylor, Director, Science and Environment Programs

The International Center for Journalists regularly administers programs related to environmental coverage.

Riverside, Calif. – Residents of Mira Loma Village claim air pollution harms their health. In March 2007, a group of ethnic media journalists went to investigate.

Rachel Lopez, an activist for the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, led a group of reporters on a tour of Mira Loma, a community east of Los Angeles with some of the worst air quality in the United States. The visitors spoke with residents at Mira Loma Village, 101 homes surrounded by warehouses and an auto transfer storage yard fed by the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The residents want to block more warehouses and trucks, which they say are sullying the air and posing danger on their roads.

The visit was part of a two-day workshop on air quality for ethnic media in California organized by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and sponsored by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Most of the participants edit or report for specific minority communities, including people with ancestry from Africa, China, India, Latin America, the Philippines and the Middle East. Most of the journalists were recruited by New America Media, a national coalition of ethnic media.

The group heard briefings from air regulators, experts on the health effects of pollution, journalists and community activists. The Port of Los Angeles and warehouse developers declined invitations to participate.

This urban basin stretching east from Los Angeles to Riverside and San Bernardino counties is blanketed by the nation’s worst ozone smog and fine particle air pollution. The area has some of the toughest air pollution control rules in the nation, which have reduced the number of days that the region suffers from bad air quality. But nearby mountains trap pollutants, and continued growth – much of it linked to soaring freight traffic from China – has slowed improvements to a crawl.

Journalists collected contact lists, fact sheets, background information and other reporting tools. In exercises, some journalists drafted story ideas to pitch to their editors on subjects discussed at the workshop. Others drafted the top of a news story on the community complaints.

“The workshop provided us with valuable information and resources,” said Georgette Kassis of the One World Org Television show in Arcadia, Calif.

“I especially enjoyed learning about the issues in Mira Loma and being able to go out to the community, see what was happening and then trying to write the top of a story about it,” added Stacey Shepard from the Bakersfield Californian newspaper.

Reporters and editors for ethnic media seldom have opportunities for training on air pollution issues. Some say state agencies often brush off their requests for information or interviews. This program was designed to arm them with basic understanding and background information, the basis of one or more current stories, and new confidence to report on and explain pollution issues to their readers, listeners and viewers.

The Riverside meeting was the second for ethnic media by ICFJ in California. In late 2005, ICFJ hosted a workshop in Long Beach for Spanish-language media, conducted mostly in Spanish.