Fueled by a scandal centered on corrupt city officials, Latino California Bell was born. Bell, Calif., is a working-class city about 15 minutes outside Los Angeles that received national attention in 2010 when eight city officials, including the mayor and city manager, were arrested and charged with corruption.
According to Latino California’s chief executive officer and founder Maria Luisa Arredondo, Bell’s business association created a newspaper around the time of the scandal to keep citizens updated on the situation. But once the media attention started to fade, there was still demand to continue the publication. Association members contacted Arredondo after finding the Latino California website and proposed they enter into an alliance. Arredondo said the association takes care of administration and advertising, while Latino California provides editorial content.
The first issue launched May 5 with a 10,000 print run and will continue as a monthly publication. The free paper is distributed door-to-door and delivered to businesses in Bell as well as the community center. About 80 percent of the content is written in Spanish.
When Arredondo created Latino California two years ago, she wanted to develop an online news source for the state’s Latino population (according to the 2010 state census, that’s about 38 percent). A former editor with the Los Angeles-based daily Spanish-language newspaper La Opinión, Arredondo recruited several Latino journalists to join her in the endeavor. Currently, there are four full-time staff members and about 10 freelancers located throughout Southern California.
While the website covers Latino issues on a statewide level, Latino California Bell caters specifically to Bell’s Spanish-speaking population. Although it was the scandal that sparked the paper’s formation, the publication is still a community newspaper, covering local events, schools, and sports.
“Print is still important and relevant to the Latino community,” Arredondo said. “We also found that small business owners would rather advertise in print than on a website … it’s more economical for them.”
For Arredondo, the experience has been “very rewarding.”
“We’ve received comments from other cities around the area who want us to cover them, and our plan is to expand,” she said. “They’re in the same situation as Bell, where they do not have a professional paper put together by professional journalists.” Arredondo said the paper will expand into a weekly format in the future.
The paper recently published a special edition chronicling the two-year anniversary of the Bell scandal with interviews from authorities and citizens. So, what’s the difference between Latino California Bell and the much-larger and neighboring Los Angeles Times that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2011 for its coverage of the scandal? Arredondo said, “The L.A. Times might cover the city once in a while, but for us, Bell is everything.”