For most student journalists, covering the news in Englishis challenging enough. But at a handful of schools across the country, studentsare leaping beyond expectations by publishing all or part of their publicationsin multiple languages.
Some have published bilingually for decades, but for otherpublications, going bilingual is a new experiment.
And with more and more schools requiring coursework in asecond (or third, or fourth) language to graduate, multilingualism in theUnited States may be here to stay. About 20 percent of people over the age of 5living in the United States speak a language other than English at home; 8.6percent of people speak English “less than very well,” according to a 2009survey by the U.S. Census Bureau.
At the University of Arizona in Tucson, ElIndependiente has published in both English and Spanish since itsinception in 1976.
“Tucson, especially with its proximity to Mexico, is alargely Spanish-speaking area, and a lot of the residents who live there, ifthey’re not bilingual, then they’re mainly Spanish speaking,” explainedCassandra Weinman, who was news editor of El Independiente in thespring semester. “They’ve kind of been left out from other publications, sothey’re literally, literally unable to read what’s being printed.”
El Independiente was founded by the universityto help seniors complete their capstone projects in journalism. It serves theentire community of southern Tucson rather than just the college campus.
“They (South Tucson residents) didn’t want to know what wasgoing on at U of A because it wasn’t affecting them,” Weinman said. “Theywanted 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 tothe multicultural and bilingual emphasis of El Independiente.
“If we didn’t [publish], people in south Tucson, which iswhere 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 definitelyreally gratifying to know that your work is being seen in such a positive way.”
At Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey, TheStillman Exchange has kept the campus updated on the business worldfor five years as the first dedicated undergraduate business publication in thecountry. In 2009, the staff attained another first by publishing theirinaugural Chinese issue of the paper.
“Our Chinese exchange students are the largest population offoreign exchange students, so it made sense to pursue a bilingual publicationin that language,” said Meg Reilly, managing editor of both the regular and bilingualeditions of The Stillman Exchange.
The special bilingual editions of The StillmanExchange provide the traditional business stories routinely coveredin regular editions of the paper, but also provide commentary and analysis fromthe perspective of Chinese students attending business school in America.
“We also aim to educate the Seton Hall community on a deeperlevel. Anyone can regurgitate the afternoon headlines, and I fear sometimesthat is what our regular edition has become,” Reilly said. “We have a Chineseperspective 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 HighSchool’s newspaper, The Talon, in 1985, it was not yet a bilingualnewspaper. But Rosenberg saw drawing a fractured community together as part ofhis job, and he thought including articles in Spanish could help.
“The population actually has become more ethnically balancedover the years, and more fully integrated, but when I started there it wasstill very much in a transition period,” he said. “So one of the goals of thepaper was to make it more representative of the school as a whole.”
Initially, Rosenberg had trouble recruiting students who previouslyattended Mountain View High School, which had a large minority populationbefore it was closed. He said he thought having students from differentbackgrounds would help ease the transition to a unified school.
“There’s still issues, obviously, but I think having anewspaper print in Spanish and having Spanish byline stories and havingstudents from the neighborhoods of kids who had gone to the other high schoolwas one of the key pieces of making the school feel like a place whereeverybody was an equal member,” he said.
Richard Campanaro, student media adviser at EastsideMemorial High School in Austin, Texas, faced similar issues. English is not thefirst language for many of his students, who come from places like SierraLeone, Mexico and Nicaragua.
“For me it was just kind of like a marketing idea. Lightbulb – like, duh, if 85 percent of your population speaks Spanish, why not?” herecounted. “And then I saw all the benefits of having a bilingual newspaper.”
For Campanaro, the ability to write stories in Spanish hasbeen crucial to helping his students learn to write.
“It’s actually really useful because when you have a studentwho comes in and they don’t speak very much English, that shouldn’t be lookedat as a bad thing… That’s actually a tool you can use,” Campanaro said. “If thestudent understands the skills, if they need to do it in Spanish first toreally let it hit home, heck yeah!”
At Seton Hall, Reilly also found publishing bilingually tobe productive for the both Chinese students who work on the special bilingualeditions of The Stillman Exchange and the American studentswho read the paper.
“Aside from the great value that is provided to our readercommunity, the Chinese exchange students have an opportunity to share theirvoice and test it out in their second language,” Reilly said, referring to thestudents in a 1+2 program the Seton Hall University business school runs with aChinese university.
The Chinese students who write in both Chinese and Englishlearn a lot, but Reilly said American students also take the opportunity topractice their language skills when reading the bilingual editions.
“Even students in our Chinese language program have foundgreat value in our bilingual releases and learn a lot more about the Chinesepeople and culture than they could ever read in a book,” Reilly said.
Speaking their minds
At some schools, going bilingual has given students a uniqueopportunity to use their voices and share their stories in their own languages.
“I have teachers who say [my students] are not going to beable to do it. And I say, ‘No, they can do it, it just depends on whether youwant to get out of your seat and really teach that student how to do it and notjust 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 likewriting, I really like going out and meeting people, and I love doinginterviews 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 thethings they are passionate about.
“The literary magazine… it’s a very emotionally chargedclass because I think everybody’s got a story. I think the newspaper as wellhas exposed them to new issues,” he said. “I had a freshman looking up statelegislation and he found something that he was really impassioned by… and so hewrote a letter to his congressman and we published it in the paper. He saw itin the paper and everyone was going up to him and patting him on the back, andhe was like, ‘This feels great.’”
For Chinese students working on the bilingual edition of TheStillman Exchange, writing for the paper is often their first tasteof expression without government intervention, and the first chance to trulyspeak their minds.
“The great thing about our bilingual publication is that wegive our students some of their first opportunities to write in ‘free press,’”Reilly said. “In China, publications are often censored by the government orforced [to be] biased.”
In fact, The Stillman Exchange wassubject to such censorship when they tried to mail a box of newspapers to thestudents’ hometowns in China.
“[W]e used to ship a box of our bilingual releases to Chinafor our students’ family and friends to enjoy,” Reilly said. “Unfortunately,our issues never made it to their final destination due to censorship by thegovernment, and we discontinued shipping issues that would never make itanyway.”
While the small number of bilingual student publications maybe ahead of the curve, they also face unique challenges. None of these fournewspapers have been able to publish entirely in a second language.
Weinman estimates each edition of El Independienteis between 30 and 50 percent bilingual.
“In an ideal world we would be able to put everything inSpanish as we did in English, but with time constraints and deadlines and allthat stuff we have to pick and choose the stories that we feel are mostimportant and that need to be out there for all of our readers to grasp,” shesaid.
Stories for El Independiente are oftenwritten in English by non-Spanish speakers and then translated by volunteersfrom the Spanish language department at the University of Arizona. Because ofthe extra step in the editing and production process, Weinman said it simplyisn’t feasible for them to publish more articles in Spanish.
“We try and find the stories [to translate] that we feel aremost applicable,” Weinman said. “For example, in the last issue we did thispast year, there was a good piece on the HPV virus, which apparently is prettyprevalent in Latina women. So we made sure to translate that in Spanish becauseit’s something that as a newsroom, we felt the information should be out thereeasily.”
The Stillman Exchange goes through an equally rigorousorganization, translation and editing process as El Independiente.The editor of the special edition, a Chinese student, assigns articles. Oncestories are assigned, they are written by in Chinese and translated back intoEnglish. Two different editors then review each story in both Chinese andEnglish, to make sure the changes align. A professor fluent in both Chinese andEnglish double-checks the edits.
“There is certainly a challenge in preparing the bilingualeditions, and that is why we have significantly less releases than our regularedition,” Reilly said. “The editing process can seem tedious at the surface,but is necessary to ensure that the translations not only make sense but followthe same tone.”
Campanaro’s biggest issue has been maintaining a staff andgiving them the confidence to publish consistently up to his professionalstandards. A graduate of Texas Tech University and a former professionaljournalist, he started teaching at Eastside Memorial High School two years agoamidst 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 asghetto, and they’ve kind of embraced that ghetto mentality,” he said. “A lot ofthese kids, the nature, the culture of the school, there’s a lot of excusemakers. Everybody thinks because they have hardships that rules don’t apply tothem.”
Countering these ideas and low academic expectations is oneof Campanaro’s jobs, and he holds his journalism students to high expectations.They use the same tests and materials that college students use. He wrangledthe necessary computer and camera equipment out of the school’s budget so theirpublications will look professional.
“I’d have about 45 kids in a class, very few of them were atgrade 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 greatexperience, and then I have that benchmark to say ‘Okay, here’s our gauge, lookat 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 matterwhat the circumstances.
“What I try to do is to emulate the program that I wastaught in. I basically focus on – look, you’re only going to be judged by whatpeople see,” Campanaro said. “You’re judged by the final product, so that’sgoing to be the basis for how successful you are in this class. And I reallyput the burden on them to create something.”
Back at Los Altos High School, The Talonno longer publishes bilingually.
Current Talon adviser Michael Moulsaid he felt publishing bilingually was not really fixing the problem it wasintended to solve: to help integrate two different groups at the school andmake sure everyone was being represented.
“My feeling was that if we really want to cover our entirepopulation on campus, we need to be actually covering that population insteadof 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 tojust kind of Band-Aid fixing it with translation.”
Moul’s goal is to get more multilingual students on hisstaff to better represent the school’s diversity. However, he is not opposed toreinstating bilingual issues of the paper in the future.
“The battle I’m fighting right now is to get more of thatother half of the campus represented on our staff,” he said. “Once we’ve sortof made steps towards that, then I feel like that staff can decide whether theyfeel like that’s a necessary thing.”
Weinman said she felt that in addition to providing aservice for the local community, the sprinkling of bilingual newspaperscurrently in existence are a glimpse of media’s future.
“I know people are resistant because there’s the argumentthat English, you know, ‘This is the U.S., we should all speaking English.’ Butthere’s absolutely nothing wrong with letting another group in on all theamazing 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 startunderstanding that there is a larger community out there.”
By Emily T. Gerston, SPLC staff writer