* Above, the subjects, from afar, in an apparent dining ritual. Via LAist.
The Entryway is an online project created by two aspiring journalists -- "maybe the whitest people we know" -- who move into a crowded immigrant household in Los Angeles to learn Spanish, so that they can, eventually, better report on their city. It's getting wonderfully fawning feedback so far, and hopes to raise $3,240 to keep going.
Kara Mears takes photos and Devin Browne writes and designs the entries, which are published sort of like a diary, with words and phrases alternating between large and small typeface. The first thing we learn about the young women, in their opening entry, is that they chose their family after an apparently grueling two years of searching because -- unlike other houses in MacArthur Park, I guess -- "This family cares about cleanliness. They cannot live with bedbugs."
There's a sign about cleanliness on the wall. "The sign in the bathroom made me feel better," Devin writes.
We learn nothing else in the first entry about Juan and Maria, the immigrant hosts, other than their home is in fact infested with cockroaches, and that maybe Kara 'shouldn't have brought her other boots.' From there on, nothing about where everyone is specifically from, why and how they moved to the United States, how they make money, how they survive, and, most crucially, the underlying forces that cause migration, poverty, and social marginalization.
You know, the stuff of journalism. But The Entryway, I figured out upon quickly consuming the entire site, isn't a journalism effort. The authors are wasting an incredible journalistic opportunity, in the service of their own vanity.
The Entryway is not about the immigrants living there but about how two "white people" intrepidly enter an unknown space -- what I'd call the home of any regular working real-life Angeleno, nothing more, nothing less -- and manage to 'survive' there. It's evident in the authors' self-satisfied gloating up front.
"Of course, we could have learned Spanish in Mexico or Chile or Ecuador, could have gone to a coffee farm in Costa Rica, or the Mountain School in Guatemala ..." the first entry says, evidently regarding those options as inferior to their choice. ('Going to Guatemala to learn Spanish is soo Stuff White People Like.')
With eight diary entries so far, The Entryway has established no connections between the lives of the people in the house and the issues facing the immigrant community at large. They're busy mentioning how they have to "put the toilet paper in the trash can next to the toilet." There is little evidence of any meaningful engagement with L.A.'s well-organized immigrant advocate community (see here), the local community police officers (see here), or legal and housing aid workers (see here). All the voices that a real journalist, as opposed to a safari trooper, would go to pains to incorporate in such a project.
That's something I know several of my colleagues at the L.A. Times or La Opinion would do. But they're old-school media. In the future of journalism, where every new-school-trained journalist is first and foremost "a voice" before a fact-gatherer, day-to-day reporters who live off nothing but their bylines don't seem to count. 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.
A day ago, I sent The Entryway to a bunch of young SoCal contacts, among them white, black, Mexican, Guatemalan, Salvadoran, Argentine, Puerto Rican, and Venezuelan professionals, all of them journalists, academics, or lawyers. The uniform response was "Ugh."
The root problem is one that so many journalists in L.A. are still unable to shake, and which I've discussed here, here, and in the LA Weekly, here. Journalist Eileen Truax, who reports for La Opinion, sums up the "Ugh":
Latinos are half of the population of L.A. but they still see us as an uncomfortable appendage, as if we were a tumor that grows on and invades half the body; it is occupying the space but it is not the body itself.
Journalist Aura Bogado, former host of the nationally broadcast Free Speech Radio News and now a student at Yale, shared with me an email she wrote to Spot.us, one of the project's sponsors. This part nails it:
Beautiful photographs and a sentence about the inability of a family to afford to buy a child's birthday cake does not explain the political, economic, and social underpinnings which create reality in MacArthur Park. At best, I consider The Entryway a traveler's public journal. To ask the public to fund it seems to mock the very fact that some families can't afford a birthday cake.
The Knight Foundation, which partners with Spot.us, is encouraging readers to contribute cash donations so that Devin and Kara can keep taking up space in Juan and Maria's pest-infested overcrowded house. So far, $760 have come in ... for their thoughts about rationed toilet paper, and on the absence of tampons in MacArthur Park -- and not in Spanish, by the way.
Another L.A. contact writes me:
WHO gets to tell their story? The subjects or the (privileged, white albeit female) observers? If the answer is the observers then this can only be exploitation. 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... basic, Nanook of the North stuff, really.
This is not what we need. Not what we need to celebrate, not what we need to encourage. Not anymore, LAist.
Progress is needed in media values in the same way we've seen progress in media platforms. 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. All it takes is a cheap or donated camera, an Internet connection, and a bit of encouragement.
MacArthur Park deserves better. "The barrio will have it's own voice," another friend responds, a young immigration lawyer, and a native of the neighborhood. "That's the only way it can be."
Until then, maybe Spot.us and the Knight Foundation could fund a project where aspiring journalists like Juan or Maria might move into a wealthy white home 12 miles from MacArthur Park, maybe in the study or sitting room, and report for us on the ticks and quirks of that "other L.A."
* Previously, "MacArthur Park: 'You see more white people now.'"