Guest column Josh Stearns: Why the ‘Vecinos/Neighbors’ archive in Holyoke is important

Published: 1/22/2020 9:00:19 PM

I was excited to read about the work the Holyoke Public Library and Holyoke Media are doing to preserve important Latino media history in the city with the “Vecinos/Neighbors” archive and digitization project (“Labor of love: Holyoke library preserving tapes of ‘90s TV show ‘Vecinos/Neighbors,’” Dec. 6).

Throughout American history, people have turned to community TV, radio and newspapers when their voices and stories were left out of so much of the mainstream media. As Gary O’Conner says in the Gazette piece, “If you were looking at the newspapers of the day or on TV, it was pretty much an invisible community.”

Preserving these stories and voices is important, not only for our understanding of the past, but also to shape our vision of what the future of a just and equitable media could look like. In a report released earlier this year by Democracy Fund, archiving and preserving the stories of Latino communities was identified as a key challenge facing Latino media in the digital age.

“There is limited archiving of Spanish-language media in almost any format,” wrote California State University Northridge professor Jessica Retis, who authored the report. This puts Latino media “at a disadvantage in terms of not only research but also the ability of journalists and audiences to return to stories for follow-up.”

The paper recommends a shared database that could “collect and archive Spanish-language content.”

The “Vecinos/Neighbors” project is being supported by a grant from the national nonprofit Council on Library and Information Resources. We need more support like this for journalism by and for Latino communities, not just to preserve the past but to continue serving communities today. In a separate report, Democracy Fund also documented the state of philanthropic investment in media diversity.

They found that from 2013 to 2017, $1.1 billion in grants were given to support journalism in the United States, but only 8.1 percent went to efforts focused on diverse voices and communities.

This issue feels particularly urgent given the state of Spanish language and bilingual media. In 2019 alone, four major outlets have closed: BuzzFeed News Mexico, HuffPost Mexico, New York Times en Español and Hoy, which was published by the Chicago Tribune. And yet, while national media is cutting Spanish and bilingual coverage, longtime local community papers covering Latino communities are hanging on and being joined by new local digital nonprofit reporting efforts like Enlace Latino in North Carolina, Alhambra Source in California and Borderzine in Texas.

In Holyoke and across the country we need to support community media that tells the stories no one else will.

Author Josh Stearns is program director at the Democracy Fund.

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