April 24, 2009

“Barrier breakers” dominate media awards

Southwestern College’s "The Sun" is a journalism boot-camp for Latino students

By Pablo Jaime Sáinz

Sun staff is all smiles after earning their ninth consecutive Pacesetter and General Excellence awards. Photo by Edgard Aguilar

The next generation of Latino journalists in San Diego County might be already working in a Chula Vista community college’s student newspaper.

Southwestern College’s student newspaper, The Sun, is the laboratory where Latino students gain lots of experience in all aspects of journalism, from reporting and writing to designing and updating online content.

In March, The Sun won the top awards at the Journalism Association of Community Colleges (JACC) Convention in Sacramento.

Students from The Sun earned their ninth consecutive Pacesetter and General Excellence awards, the top recognition given by America’s largest community college journalism organization.

In addition, SWC’s journalism students won nearly 30 awards, competitions and scholarships.

Many of those students, including several of the editors, are Latinos who bring different points of view to the table, but always meeting the high standards that The Sun has developed over the years.

“The program at Southwestern College is very dedicated to the movement to diversify the American news media,” said Max Branscomb, journalism professor at SWC and faculty advisor for The Sun. “But we take slack for nobody. It is a rigorous program with high expectations. This generation of Latino students is meeting those expectations and will represent us all with professionalism, integrity and talent in the years ahead,”

Alumni of this program include local TV anchors Humberto Gurmillon, Tanya Luviana and Katia Lopez-Hodoyan. Other alumni are working in print and electronic media all over the United States and Mexico, Branscomb said.

The JACC convention tops off a year in which The Sun earned the top award from all five of America’s college and university media organizations.

The Sun was previously named America’s number one community college newspaper by the National Newspaper Association, and received the top awards from the Associated Collegiate Press, American Scholastic Press Association and Columbia Scholastic Press Association. Sun journalists also won national awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. Locally, SWC journalism students earned top recognition from the San Diego Press Club, San Diego County Fair Media Competition and San Diego SPJ.

Branscomb said that The Sun has been able to earn all this recognition, in part, thanks to the diversity that exists in its newsroom, but not only in terms of ethnic and linguistic diversity, but in physical ability, sexual orientation, and gender.

He said that 29 of the 52 staff members are Latinos.

Esmeralda Ramirez, The Sun’s Online Editor, News Editor, production manager is one of the Latina student journalists who have taken positions of leadership in the newspaper.

“Because I am Mexican-American, I have something different to offer. I can show a different perspective to the issues without being biased. I’m able to know the language and the culture that someone else might not have,” said Ramirez, who is 22 and a sophomore.

Ramirez said that she has been able to develop as a journalist thanks to the journalism program at SWC, something that made her change her major from graphic design to journalism.

Another Latina at The Sun is Almendra Carpizo, the paper’s editor-in-chief. Just like Ramirez, she said that it’s important for her to represent her community and to tell stories from a different point of view than the mainstream.

“As a Latina journalist I am more in tune with the issues that concern the Latino community, and I see things that other journalist bypass,” she said. “I think the media need more diversity, and not just Latinos. In order to fully serve your public and community you need to be able to represent all aspects of it, and a lot of the times the Latino community is underrepresented.”

Carpizo said that she believes that ethnic publications and Spanish-language media are filling a gap that has been overlooked by the mainstream for too long.

“I think that Spanish language media is a necessity. Like my parents, many other Latinos are not fluent in English. They need newspapers, like La Prensa San Diego, to keep them informed. In order to become active in the community they need to be educated on what the issues are, but if no one is providing that information then how will they become aware?”

This Fall, Carpizo will be transferring on a full-scholarship to California State University, Chico, to work at The Orion, considered the nation’s top student newspaper. She said her goal is to return to San Diego after earning her bachelor’s degree to cover the issues affecting the Latino community here.

It is students like Carpizo and Ramirez that give The Sun it’s strength, Branscomb said.

“We have students who are immigrants, who are from poverty backgrounds and from families who never had a member attend college before,” he said. “These students are barrier breakers who are showing other students in the South Bay that there are opportunities for people who work hard.”

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