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Apr. 2 2010 - 12:32 pm | 718 views | 0 recommendations | 6 comments

Two white girl reporters embed themselves in MacArthur Park; other reporters cry racism

What happens when two young female reporters who describe themselves as “maybe the whitest people we know” embed themselves in an immigrant household located in the eastern portion of downtown Los Angeles and begin reporting on their experiences?

Other reporters freak out.

Surely, The Entryway must have seemed like a good idea when Devin Browne, a freelance journalist, and Kara Mears, a photojournalist, conceived of it. The duo decided to move in with a family from Mexico living in MacArthur Park “to learn a foreign language so that we may better report on our own city and country.” The girls pay rent. The family teaches them Spanish. As it happens, Browne and Mears report their findings on The Entryway, their independently funded, grassroots, photo-and-text blog. Clearly, the intention here goes beyond the lingual, as the young women immerse themselves in a culture wholly different from their own. They’re deep hanging out.

So far, they’ve posted nine installments. Mears’ photos accompany Browne’s text. The women encounter cockroaches, find out what happens when the police show up, and learn about local gang activity. To support their investigations, they’re soliciting donations through Spot.us, a “nonprofit project of the Center for Media Change” that is “funded by various groups like the Knight Foundation” and which helps facilitate community funded reporting. They’ve raised $780 towards their $3,220 goal.

Judging by some of the responses they’ve gotten to The Entryway, you’d think Mears and Browne had committed some kind of a crime against journalism. While LAist gave the project a nod, Daniel Hernandez, a former LA Times and LA Weekly staff reporter who now contributes to the LA TimesLa Plaza Latin America news blog from Mexico City, practically had a seizure at the mere thought of two whitey-white girls setting up a grassroots reporting camp in what one gathers he feels to be his turf.

In a screeching, histrionic post with a title that compares the young reporters’ endeavor to a “safari in Los Angeles,” Hernandez throws a fit over these Caucasians reporting on immigrant issues. Apparently, Hernandez has some very strict ideas on what journalism entails. Because The Entryway privileges experiential journalism over traditional reportage, Hernandez pronounces the project lacks “real journalism” — which is apparently limited to discussing immigration, poverty, and “social marginalization” — and proclaims it an inherent failure, an affront to his journalistic integrity, and an assault on journalism itself. Also, racist.

The rub, it seems, is that the woman are what Hernandez deems “new-school-trained journalist[s],” all voice and no fact-checking, and they are pushing out the “old-school media” reporters, including, ostensibly, Hernandez. These days, he asserts, “real” reporters, “day-to-day reporters who live off nothing but their bylines,” are a dying breed and “don’t seem to count,” he pouts. In addition, he suggests the ladies are stealing jobs from minority reporters. “I’m thinking of many young journalists of color, too, who spend years working courts, cops, records (and yes, homes) in poor communities for little glory or recognition.” Nowadays, one imagines Hernandez feels, it’s only white reporters who get all the glory. Surely.

Unsurprisingly, all his friends agree. This is “voyeurism which gives white people yet another excuse to hold the Other at arm’s length while all the while assuming they know what they are about,” one howls. What, pray tell, is the solution? Not to worry. Hernandez has it. “So if independent media workers (or wealthy foundations, or documentary filmmakers) truly care about giving voice to marginalized voices, they should empower immigrants and poor people to tell their own stories.”

In other words, only white people should be allowed to write about white people. And only immigrants should write about immigrants. And I should probably stop writing about the adult movie industry altogether, unless I am willing to start boning people for money while cameras roll. Because, otherwise, I am one more “voyeur” giving people “yet another excuse to hold the Other at arm’s length.” I mean, right? Probably, I should only write about other writers. Who blog in their sweatpants. And don’t know anything about anything other than how to order a Chai latte at Starbucks. At least now my mission going forward is more clear. Thank you, Mr. Hernandez.

Hernandez is right on one point, though. Sadly, The Entryway isn’t — so far — proving to be the most rigorous example of journalism. It is a bit navel-gazing. The layout is odd and distracting. Mears and Browne have a ways to go if they want to tell the stories of those they encounter with authenticity and depth.

In a new FAQ, the girls clarify their mission: “The-Entryway.com is a personal narrative written by two journalists — it is not journalism.” They have other plans, to write longer pieces that tackle bigger issues, some of which may appear in other outlets and some of which may appear on the site. It is a work-in-progress.

Here’s the thing. At least they’re trying. In case there’s anyone out there who hasn’t gotten the memo, journalism as we know it is dying, and it won’t be up to me, Hernandez, or the LA Times to redefine it. What journalism will become is in the hands of young, earnest, and, I assume, eager writers and photographers who don’t need big-name media institutions to tell them what to cover, what to write, and what to photograph. Hey, these kid reporters are our future! And if it means they’re getting off their asses, refusing to sell out to The Man, and raising their own budgets so they can give dead-tree media the middle finger, I, for one, am all for it.

[LA Observed]

Edited to add: Sara Libby has also written about the project here and here.


6 Total Comments
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  1. collapse expand

    Agree they get big points for trying. What bugs me, though, is this line in their FAQ: “The-Entryway.com is a personal narrative written by two journalists — it is not journalism.” Why this need to qualify, to distance and diminish an effort that just got underway? Journalism is being redefined every day. Mears and Browne should focus on what it is – not what it isn’t – and let the work speak for itself. Be aspirational.

    Oh, and Susannah? According to Hernandez it is okay to write about ordering Chai lattes but please don’t veer off into Mocha Frappuccinos.

  2. collapse expand

    But have they tried real journalism? I have a hunch more people than they’d expect would be interested in that sort of writing — if done well.

    I’m a bit skeptical about the death of journalism ‘as we know it.’ The market for it will shrink somewhat, it’s true. But it was an unfair monopoly to begin with. They’re just going to have to compete harder for less consumers. What’s sure to die is bad journalism. Why read fluff pieces or half-ass reporting on shit when you can just browse other people’s public diaries? What’s also likely to go extinct is so-called ‘opinion’ journalism. Now that intelligent readers can react in real time, as it were, to op-eds, and share their reactions with others, has helped everyone see how hollow this genre was, by and large — and how much of it was really just sinecures for aging white guys with enlarged hemorrhoids expostulating on shit they didn’t know much about. Good riddance, motherfuckers.

    What does Hernandez mean by those white girls holding “the Other” at arms’ length. What should they do to bring “It” closer? Wipe that family’s collective ass? Cook their meals? Mow their lawns? Have sex with them, perhaps? The sight of minority intellectuals excoriating white folks with nonsensical left-wing gibberish imported from French universities moves me to endless mirth. Or maybe, as you suggest, he’s just afraid them hollaback girls are cutting into his monopoly.

    Not that the two women couldn’t do a better job motivating their enterprise. I’ve been trying for years now to find good reasons why anyone should give a fuck when people of no discernible talent clamor to tell everybody their “stories.” My life is finite, and one day it’ll end; I better spend it meaningfully. Why am I supposed to spend hours of it following their non-adventures? Everybody has a goddamn story, including mouth-breathers in the deep South who fuck their first cousins. Should we care?

  3. collapse expand

    Also: it’s MacArthur Park, as I’m sure you know.

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    I'm a freelance journalist, blogger, photographer, and creator of TheWarProject.com. I've written for Newsweek, Details, Harper's Bazaar, The Daily Beast, Radar Online, Variety, Salon, Slate, Wired News, The New York Post, The LA Weekly, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Vancouver Sun, The San Francisco Examiner Magazine, Playboy.com, and many other publications. I've appeared on CNN, Fox News, "Politically Incorrect," and NPR. Currently, I'm working on a novel. My email is susannahbreslin at earthlink dot net.

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