California student-run news organizations ramp up Spanish-language coverage

ElLenador for Spanish story

Copies of El Leñador, the Spanish-language newspaper, adorns the Cal Pol Humboldt newsroom.

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Many student-run newspapers throughout the Cal State system now provide content in Spanish. But how they do it — and the reasons why — varies from campus to campus.

A campus newspaper’s ability to publish in Spanish hinges on having Spanish speakers on staff, and the turnover of student journalists from semester to semester can make or break a newspaper’s ability to publish in Spanish.

Adriana Hernandez, editor-in-chief of San Francisco State’s Golden Gate Xpress knows her publication is one of the luckier ones.

“We either translate or do original reporting (in Spanish) — depending on the situation or urgency — for our Spanish section,” Hernandez said. 

San Francisco State is the first campus among the Cal State schools to offer a major dedicated to bilingual Spanish journalism, giving its student journalists consistency from one year to the next.

Contrast this to California State University, Sacramento. The State Hornet struggles to find students who are prepared to provide Spanish-language content to their peers.

“Last semester we had four staffers, this semester we had five,” said editor-in-chief Mercy Sosa. “I will say that every semester we have adapted, grown, and found more tools that are at our disposal, but we are still obviously learning ourselves, so not everyone is as confident with Spanish writing.”

Fernando Gallo, adviser for The State Hornet said, “It is a challenge to find students that can read and write in Spanish here.”

At San Diego State University, Jennifer Aguilar is a junior and a first-generation transfer student. Aguilar is the editor of Mundo Azteca, an entire Spanish section of San Diego State’s student-run newspaper, The Daily Aztec. She says her role is to “translate or help others write their stories in Spanish.” 

“We recruit students every year, which is how we keep it going as students leave,” Aguilar said.

And at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, students who are not journalists but are instead majoring in Spanish have contributed to The Mustang News. Martha Galvan-Mandujano, an assistant professor of Spanish, has encouraged her students to assist.

“Some of my students have helped as editors, translating or writing news in the past. I think they started in 2021-22,” Galvan-Mandujano said. She teaches a course on Spanish journalism for the university’s world languages and cultures department, and has “recommended students (to The Mustang News) in the past and tried to encourage my advanced Spanish students to participate” in working with the newspaper.

Beyond logistics is the bigger picture of why it matters. 

“I think it’s important to include Spanish language in our reporting to be able to give the community a voice to represent themselves,” Hernandez said of San Francisco State’s Golden Gate Xpress. “It also reflects on how diverse our newsroom is — our sourcing, and the kind of work we do. Every community deserves to have their voices heard and be well-informed.”

Hernandez admits that metrics for their Spanish stories aren’t high. “However, we have seen outliers from story topics [that] connect with our community. We have seen a lot more activity in our Spanish multimedia content, ranging around 5,000-9,000 views on social media,” adding, “We have seen a lot more engagement from our Spanish-language audience through Instagram, for example, as well as reaching others outside of SF State.” 

At Cal Poly Humboldt, what was once a Spanish-language insert into The Lumberjack, the campus newspaper, has become main news source for the region. El Leñador (The Lumberjack in Spanish) moved beyond covering campus events to topics of broader interest to the Humboldt County community, such as housing and immigration, as well as profiles on local Latino businesses.

El Leñador was formed in 2013, after Cal Poly Humboldt was designated a Hispanic-serving institution. Twenty-one of California State University’s 23 campuses now meet the criteria for becoming HSIs. 

Gallo, adviser to Sacramento State’s The State Hornet, also highlighted the importance of the paper’s bilingual efforts, given that the university is an HSI with a Hispanic population of more than 35%. The stories are not only important to the audience but to the journalists writing them. 

“Spanish is the one that I know, it is the one that I grew up with,” The State Hornet’s Sosa said, “so it is the one that I can work with at the moment. But I think it is important for us to know that even though we live in the United States, there are people here speaking in other languages that deserve to have this service, which is what I think journalism is.”

Similarly, Daniel Hernandez, the Spanish visuals editor for San Francisco State’s Golden Gate Xpress, said that he thinks it is necessary to have other languages included in their publication, as well. The next one may be Mandarin or Cantonese, he said, but it’s important to really focus on the Spanish language now and “build the foundation on how to keep a stable Spanish section going.”

Emmely Ramirez graduated with a journalism degree from California State University, Sacramento. Olivia Keeler is a fourth-year communications and media studies major at Sonoma State University. Both are former members of EdSource’s California Student Journalism Corps.

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