Richmond Pulse gives voice to the voiceless
on November 10, 2015
The Richmond Pulse is a newspaper on a mission. Launched in 2011, the Pulse aims to expand the narrative surrounding its hometown by listening to the people who know it best: Richmond residents.
Malcolm Marshall, managing editor at the Pulse, has been recognized this year by the Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ). Marshall will be presented the group’s Silver Heart award tonight, an award that honors a “journalist whose career reflects an extraordinary dedication to giving voice to the voiceless.”
“The work Malcolm is doing truly lives up to this award,” said Lila LaHood, president of the SPJ chapter and publisher of the San Francisco Public Press. “Not only the community is being covered, but young journalists are being trained, helping foster conversations within the community.”
The Pulse, a bilingual monthly print newspaper updated online weekly, operates differently than traditional media. Although in many ways it’s about journalism, the project is also about youth development and community organizing. Almost all writers are under the age of 25 and many are still in high school.
“What many lack in journalism skills, they make up with being experts in their community,” Marshall said. “They have an intimate knowledge of this area. They care about Richmond and they know it’s more than its reputation.”
Marshall, a veteran of the news industry, began his journalism career at the ethnic news wire service New America Media and became a producer of Street Soldiers Radio. In 2011 organizers saw a gap in Richmond news coverage, and Marshall was chosen to lead the new project.
The Pulse launched with the support of a 10-year grant from The California Endowment. The project is part of the Building Healthy Communities initiative, a program that has partnered with 14 cities across California to work on a wide range of strategies — from salad bars to clean air and from healthy youth opportunities to safe routes to schools.
Over the last four years the Pulse has managed to establish itself as an asset for the people of Richmond. Although led by youth, most of its readers are adults. Edgardo Cervano-Soto, one of the first contributors and long time writer for the paper, sees a generation gap in Richmond and applauds the role of the Pulse in bridging that divide and helping the voice of the youth be heard.
“When it started, I really think that Richmond Pulse was unique,” said Cervano-Soto. “It felt like we were insiders. We knew about pockets of Richmond that weren’t being covered. We were focused on finding different angles.”
For the Pulse it’s about the people and community justice. The front page of the October issue features the struggle for seniors to find affordable housing, paired with a Spanish translation to appeal to the growing number of Latinos in Richmond.
Other coverage examines a controversial rent control initiative and a program to provide health care for undocumented immigrants.. The back page encourages residents to support local businesses.
Many community members and groups have supported the Pulse over the years. During Gayle McLaughlin’s tenure as mayor of Richmond, the paper found in City Hall a safe harbor in which to conduct editorial meetings. Marshall describes this as a crucial turning point, since at the time he was working with kids from different neighborhoods and City Hall acted as a neutral ground.
“It added some legitimacy to our project too,” said Marshall. “The kids began to see that somebody wanted to hear what they had to say. Without [McLaughlin’s] support we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
Many young writers not only have found their voice in the paper, but some also see it as a form of independence. Most of the contributions are freelance and the articles are paid. Marshall is always looking for unique perspectives.
“We’ve had commentaries and stories by people in an out of the juvenile justice system, foster children, immigrant youth,” Marshall said. “We attempt to bring people in that maybe are on the margins and feel that nobody wants to hear their voice.”
Marshall’s leadership has put community voices at the forefront of the conversation. Coverage has acknowledged the progress that has been made in the city while still addressing the chronic ills they face.
“The kids know there is more to their city,” Marshall said. “That narrative wasn’t getting out. Now it is.”
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