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Pacific News Service Announces Closure of Organization

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The board of directors and staff of Pacific News Service (PNS), the parent organization of the nonprofit New America Media (NAM), has announced that the two entities will cease operations by Nov. 30.

“For 45 years, Pacific News Service has pioneered new ways to diversify American journalism and communications,” said Board Chair Lawrence Wilkinson, chairman of Heminge & Condell, a strategic advisory and investment firm, and co-founder of Global Business Network (GBN).

“Long before terms like civic engagement, youth media, collaborative reporting, and inclusive journalism were in vogue, PNS and NAM were inventing how to implement them,” said fellow board member James Bettinger, longtime director (now emeritus) of the John S. Knight Stanford Journalism Fellowship program.

Funded by foundation grants and contracts, the news and communications agency launched many successful projects that pushed journalism’s boundaries.

“We’ve always aspired to do more than our resources allowed,” said New America Media Executive Director Sandy Close. “We grew too fast, and were reluctant to cut off programs after their funding expired. We reached a point where we were not sustainable, as currently constituted.”

Of all PNS’ initiatives, none was more ambitious in scope and impact than New America Media. Founded 20 years ago at a Chinese lunch in San Francisco for some 24 ethnic media reporters, it was inspired by PNS’ search for more effective ways to report on an increasingly diverse America.

“How could a mainstream news service like ours do its job when there was no longer a mainstream?” Close said. “We decided to seek out partnerships with ethnic media outlets that would allow us to share content about and between the Bay Area’s growing racial and language groups.”

The founding lunch opened the door to a parallel universe of journalists and media makers hungry to transcend their cultural silos and expand their coverage. Ethnic media leaders realized that, after years of being ignored by the mainstream media, they could gain visibility and respect by coming together.

“If you add our combined circulations, we’re larger than the mainstream dailies,” Alex Esclamada, then the publisher of Philippine News, exclaimed.

New California Media was born by acclamation at that luncheon. What had begun as a modest impulse to diversify PNS’ local news lens turned PNS over the next decade into New America Media.

Ethnic media became our direction-givers, said Close, inspiring NAM to go beyond journalism to become a quasi-trade association and develop a social marketing arm. NAM organized awards and expos to bring the sector greater visibility, held press briefings with experts and elected officials, coordinated fellowship programs and professional training workshops, facilitated a news exchange, and developed public awareness campaigns that have brought over $10 million to the sector.

“NAM’s ethnic media directory is like a map of America’s new topography,” says Bettinger.
He added, “Its gatherings brought reporters from Black, Hispanic, Asian, Middle Eastern, Eastern European, African and Afro-Caribbean communities together – often for the first time – educating policy makers even as they expanded the sector’s own knowledge base.”

To capture their perspectives and document ethnic media’s reach, NAM commissioned some of the country’s first multilingual polls by the late Spanish language pollster Sergio Bendixen.

An early poll of the sector’s reach wound up on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, a wakeup call to mainstream journalism. Ethnic media was actually a distinctive genre serving one out of five American adults.

NAM’s work put ethnic media on the radar in a way nothing else had, recalled founding NAM member Monica Lozano, publisher of the Spanish-language La Opinion and CEO of its parent company, ImpreMedia LLC.

“NAM has had such an enormous impact that will live long beyond the organization. It built communal ties that will continue to change the narrative, elevate voices, bring communities together and demonstrate to the larger society that we are stronger than any divisive measures others try to impose.”

The most exciting part of NAM’s work, Close notes, is seeing the media collaborate across languages and cultures to tackle issues that affected their communities.

“Black media in Arizona stood alongside Arab-American, Latino, Asian-American, and NativeAmerican media in denouncing the state law (SB 1070) that would allow police to pull people over and ask for their papers. That’s only one of many examples.”

Close says NAM would not have existed without the foundation laid by Pacific News Service, and the many reporters who started their careers there.

Launched in 1970 by noted China scholar Franz Schurmann (who was also Close’s long-time partner) and freelance journalists like Orville Schell, PNS’s mission was to challenge official government narratives about the U.S. role in Indochina.

Community

OUSD Ended Oakland High’s Onsite COVID Testing, Parents and Teachers Want It Back

Oakland High School students attend school from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. every day except Wednesdays, when they get off school around 1:30 p.m. This allows them one day a week in which they have enough time to get tested after school. When testing is onsite, students can get tested during the school day.

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Oakland High School on September 13. Photo by Zack Haber.

On August 30, The Oakland Unified School District informed Oakland High School that they would stop providing onsite COVID-19 testing at the school, but many teachers and parents want the testing services to resume.

“If you don’t test for it, you don’t see that it’s there,” said Christy Mitchell, an Oakland High School teacher. She, and the other teacher who spoke to The Oakland Post for this article requested to use pseudonyms because they fear possible retaliation for speaking out.

Mitchell thinks it is likely there have been COVID-19 cases present in the school that the district has not documented because student and staff’s ability to get tested was greatly reduced when consistent onsite testing left campus. She worries there could be people attending school who have COVID but are not showing symptoms and could unknowingly spread the virus.

Anya Burston, another Oakland High School teacher, was directed to other OUSD COVID sites when she wanted to get tested last week, but she found them inaccessible.

“They gave me the list of the other sites where we could get tested, but they’re only open from 8 to 4,” said Burston. “We work from 8:00 to 3:30.”

If one factors in commuting time, Burston claims, it’s effectively impossible for teachers to get tested at district sites if they are not at the school a teacher is already working at.

Oakland High School students attend school from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. every day except Wednesdays, when they get off school around 1:30 p.m. This allows them one day a week in which they have enough time to get tested after school. When testing is onsite, students can get tested during the school day.

According to OUSD Director of Communications John Sasaki, the district wants to bring back consistent testing to the site but is facing difficulties related to capacity. The district provided a one-day pop-up testing service on Wednesday, and said he said such a service possibly could happen again next week, too.

He encourages students and staff to pursue other testing options.

“We also encourage our students and staff to visit our regional testing hubs, take advantage of community clinics, or get tested by their healthcare provider,” Sasaki said. “Likewise, we have provided at-home tests at all of our schools for families and staff to take when needed. Students are not allowed to miss class for COVID testing.”

The take-home tests are rapid tests, which have a higher rate of false positives and negatives then CRP tests, which take longer to deliver their results. Burston said she asked for an at-home test after not being able to get tested at Oakland High School, but was told there were none available because the school had run out.

She was eventually able to get tested at the pop-up service on Wednesday, but she said when she accessed the service she saw only one other teacher getting tested. She thinks people missed out on utilizing the pop-up testing service because the district informed staff and students about the site less than 24 hours before it appeared.

Sasaki said the district stopped providing regular on-site testing to Oakland High School after the number of positive cases began to decline at the school. During the first week of school, the district has confirmed there were 22 positive cases among staff and students at Oakland High School. This number dropped to five cases during the schools’ second week and then dropped again to one case during the third week.

Oakland High School had the most positive cases of any public school in Oakland during the first week of school, which lead to an entire class of students going into quarantine. The school also had abundantly available testing at that time.

Mitchell and Burston said during the first week of school, when some Oakland High School teachers heard a student in their class had come into contact with a person who had tested positive for the virus, they would take their entire class to get tested on site. At almost all other district sites during this time, students and staff did not have onsite testing available.

“Obviously with that amount of testing you’re going to have a lot more cases coming up,” said Mitchell. “The more testing we did the more cases we found.”

By the second and third week of school, Mitchell and Burston said although tests were still provided onsite, the school would run out of them. When teachers would take their classes to get tested, sometimes there weren’t enough available for everyone.

As testing became less available, COVID-19 numbers went down. During the fourth week of school, when testing facilities had left the site, the district documented no COVID-19 cases at Oakland High School. Last week, the fifth week of school, there were two documented cases.

“I think the optics are a huge concern for the district,” Mitchell said. “But pretending it’s not happening while you’re not testing for it is very disingenuous.”

A group of Oakland High School teachers are working to change the situation and hoping to pressure the district to bring back onsite testing. A few days after they received official word that the district was removing onsite testing, they began talking with each other.

“Many of us are really frustrated and we collectively felt we had to do something if the school and the district isn’t doing anything,” said Burston.

The teachers decided to spread word about the issue through flyers they created demanding onsite testing every day at the school and other COVID-19 safety measures.

They printed 300 flyers they put on walls throughout school and about 1,600 smaller flyers that they distributed to parents and students. The flyers linked to an online petition, which over 150 teachers, students, educators and community members have signed. The petition has interactive elements, in that it asks if those signers would be interested in attending a parent/student/teacher safety meeting.

Jennifer, a parent of a student at Oakland High School, signed the petition. She asked to only be identified by her first name, as other members of her family work at OUSD and she fears they could be retaliated against in reaction to her speaking out. She works in an ER and sees devastation COVID causes first hand.

“I know there’s a lot of kids out there with COVID because our ERs are packed,” she said. “I always support the teachers and I think onsite testing is definitely a necessity.”

Mitchell said teachers are considering direct actions to work towards improving COVID-19 safety measures at Oakland High School.

If Oakland High School teachers were to take such actions, it wouldn’t be the first time in recent history they have done so. On December 10, of 2018, the vast majority of Oakland High School teachers called in sick en masse and rallied outside of Oakland’s City Hall to protest what they saw as low wages and ineffective tactics of the Oakland Education Association, their union.

On January 18, of 2019, they participated in a similar “sickout” action, but this time students and teachers from other schools joined them. Participants estimated over 300 people in total marched to support teacher demands. These actions came just before the Oakland Education Association sanctioned educator strike, which lasted from February 21 to March 1, 2019.

But Oakland High teachers say before they engage in an organized actions related to COVID-19 safety, parents first need to understand what they are working toward, and teachers need their support.

“I think it’s really vital for parents and teachers to be working hand in hand on this,” said Mitchell.

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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Digital Issues

Oakland Post: September 15th – September 21st, 2021

The printed Weekly Edition of the Oakland Post for the week of September 15th – September 21st, 2021.

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The printed Weekly Edition of the Oakland Post for the week of September 15th - September 21st, 2021.

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Activism

East Oakland Community Clean-up

The office of Councilmember Treva Reid invites you to…

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Oakland Clean Up Flyer

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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