Newspaper struggles to achieve media diversity on U campus

by DAVID SERVATIUS

In a way, the name of the newspaper tells its story. Venceremos! It is determined and defiant, a rallying cry during the Cuban revolution and an echo of the U.S. civil rights movement. Literally translated, it means, “We will win.” Or, in some cases, “We shall overcome.”

Venceremos is the University of Utah’s Spanish-English bilingual student newspaper and, as the name suggests, its history over the years has been a struggle to simply stay in existence. In January 2008, the paper returned to campus after being shelved and abandoned for more than four years.

Editor-in-Chief Stephany Murguia, a senior majoring in mass communication, said in a recent interview that the first issue of the resurrected quarterly publication took more than six months to produce and that 10,000 copies were printed and distributed across campus. The issue focused on immigration, which dominated the news while the Utah legislature was in session this year, but also looked at crime and what Murguia called “other underreported stories.”

Murguia was born in Mexico and grew up in California. She has lived in Salt Lake City for the last seven years and graduated from Copper Hills High School before attending the University of Utah. She said Venceremos isn’t just valuable because it will publish stories others aren’t interested in, but because it can actually get the stories others can’t.

“We build up a trust relationship within the community,” she said. “We can get the sources to talk to us that other publications can’t. I know people at the [Salt Lake] Tribune who have trouble getting access to parts of the community, and especially getting pictures.”

She said she ultimately wants to expand readership beyond the student body and encourage community members from the larger Salt Lake Valley area to contribute stories in both English and Spanish on a regular basis.

“We want to create a space that’s really accessible,” she said. “We want to create a community space, something bigger than just us at the university.”

Venceremos was first created in 1993 by a small group of students in order to address what they saw as a dearth of coverage in the local media of the issues that concerned their minority communities. For almost a decade the staff at the paper worked to change that.

Then, in 2003, Venceremos was forced to halt production. Luciano Marzulli, who was an editor then and who advises the current team, said in an email statement that staff members at the time had become somewhat overextended with community activism and were suddenly asked to give up the space and equipment they had been using.

“The momentum of the paper was slowing down anyway and the loss of equipment and office space was like the final straw that pushed the publication into hiatus,” he said.

The paper may have gone on hiatus, but the need for it in the community did not. Marguia, who was in high school at the time and had written a couple of columns for the paper, said that she and Marzulli recognized this need and kept alive the idea of re-launching the newspaper at some point.

“Year after year it was a constant thought with us,” Murguia said. “There was a group of about four of us and we kept copies around and we kept saying to each other that we would bring it back.”

A 2005 study by the National Association of Hispanic Journalists looked at coverage of Latino communities and issues in American weekly news magazines. It showed that, in the few stories that were published about these communities, the coverage was focused almost exclusively on migrants as a problem for U.S. society.

A report on the study’s findings said the number of Latino sources in stories was too low, the word “illegal” appeared too frequently and hurtful stereotypes were rarely challenged. It concluded: “Sadly, such representations may often make it difficult for Latinos to also see themselves beyond these one-dimensional depictions.”

Marzulli put it more bluntly. “The driving force to re-launch the paper has been the consistent and steadfast anti-immigrant and downright racist reporting that takes place in the majority of, if not all, mainstream media outlets,” he said. “The importance of Venceremos is the voice and perspective that it offers to counter that racism.”

Last year Murguia was able to use a communication department internship to finally do what she and Marzulli had talked about for years. Venceremos is in production once again, but the small staff still struggles to keep the newspaper afloat. Murguia said the first issue had to be written, designed and laid out on her personal laptop computer. The staff shares space with the Center for Ethnic Student Affairs in the Olpin Student Union building.

She said they were able to get funding from the University Publications Council, which provided half of what they needed. Other sources, including the departments of humanities and social work, provided the rest.

“That was enough to just do the first issue, to cover the cost of printing and distribution,” Murguia said. “But it didn’t help us to get any equipment or our own space to produce the next issues.”

She said similar funding has been secured for the production of future issues and she is also selling advertising space.

“It’s frustrating starting from scratch again,” she said. “Not only raising money, getting funding, but also a lack of existing infrastructure. But it’s something I have to do.”

Sandra Plazas is the co-founder and current editor of local Spanish-language newspaper Mundo Hispano. She understands Murguia’s drive to make Venceremos a reality. Plazas and her mother worked alone for months in the dining room of their two-bedroom apartment to create their publication, and for many of the same reasons.

“You feel a sense of mission, a need to give voice to your community,” Plazas said during an interview at her office. “You also want to let people know the things that are important for them to know. You want to show what services are available and educate newcomers about what they need to do in order to live here.”

Murguia said the second issue of the new Venceremos will be distributed in late April and an issue will follow every three months after that. Eventually she would like to make it a monthly, or even a weekly, publication. At some point, if her plans succeed, Murguia may be forced to consider a name change for the newspaper — to something like Ganamos! We won.