Growing up in war-torn El Salvador, Claudia Abrego followed the strife on television and in the newspapers. The coverage gripped her, inspiring her to become a Spanish-language journalist.
Her family fled the civil war in 1989, when she was 14, and made a home in the United States. Although she earned an associate's degree in TV production at Los Angeles City College, Abrego still lacked the Spanish-language skill and deep knowledge of the diverse Latino community that she would need to work at a Spanish-language network or newspaper.
Now a student at Cal State Northridge, she has learned that it will be easier than she expected to follow her dream. The university, already known for its journalism program, began offering courses this fall designed to train reporters and editors to work in the burgeoning field of Spanish-language print and broadcast media.
Plans are in the works for a new minor in Spanish-language journalism. Officials hope to have the program approved and in place by December 2004.
"They are creating a new generation of professionals -- people who can speak English and Spanish and who know the community," said Abrego, 28, a single mother who lives in student housing with her 4-year-old son.
The minor will be under the journalism department. To complete the program, students majoring in journalism also will need to take three courses in either Chicana/Chicano studies or Central American studies, in addition to two Spanish grammar classes and a Spanish writing class. Students who are not journalism majors will need to take three English-language journalism classes covering writing, reporting and ethics, as well as the Spanish- and culture-related classes.
The first of two new classes is being taught this fall by Jose Luis Benavides, a former University of Texas assistant professor who came to Cal State Northridge from a Catholic university in San Antonio to be the program's steward.
The 20 students in his Spanish-Language News Environment class are exploring the development of Spanish-language media and related issues in the Latino community, such as immigration and labor. Students also are visited by working print and broadcast journalists who occasionally speak to the class about what it's like to work in Spanish-language media.
During a recent class, Benavides used a 1976 master's degree thesis by Ricardo Chavira to contrast the way the Los Angeles Times and Spanish-language La Opinion covered the deportation of Mexicans in the 1930s and in 1954. While La Opinion editorialized against the 1954 rounding up of men, women and children who were taken to an Elysian Park detention camp, The Times focused on how taxpayers benefited from the action.
Becoming aware of such history is crucial for those who want to work in Spanish-language media, Benavides said.
"Spanish-language journalism has been with us a long time and has fulfilled an important role in recording history that is usually marginalized or not covered at all in the mainstream English-language papers," he said. "It's good for them to realize there is a wealth of history" in Spanish-language journalism, which he said has "done a lot of good for Spanish-language communities in Southern California and throughout the United States."
The second new course, to be offered in the spring, will be a Spanish-language media writing class.
As the number of Latinos in the United States has grown, so have the number and clout of Spanish-language media outlets. Advertising revenue for Spanish-language newspapers and magazines has increased from an estimated $15.8 million in 1970 to more than $1 billion last year, according to Kirk Whisler, president of Carlsbad-based Latino Print Network, which keeps combined statistics on U.S. and Puerto Rican print markets. There are 652 Spanish-language newspapers, including 35 dailies, in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, up from 232 in 1970.
Just this fall, new Spanish-language daily newspapers have been launched in San Diego; Dallas; Fort Worth, Texas; Chicago; and Orlando, Fla. And the founding family of La Opinion is trying to find an investor to buy back the 50% stake in the paper owned by Tribune Co., which also owns The Times.
The need for qualified Spanish-language journalists has prompted several other educational institutions to offer tailored courses and degrees. UCLA Extension offers electives, taught in Spanish, for print and broadcast students earning a journalism certificate. Florida International University has a master's degree in Spanish-language journalism with an emphasis on investigative reporting, and a professional certificate in Spanish-language journalism.
"This new minor at CSUN will give them more of an advantage and it will weave everything together: cultural, strong Spanish skills and journalism," said Laura Castaneda, an assistant professor at USC's Annenberg School of Journalism. USC will offer a course in Advanced TV News Reporting in Spanish next spring.