Advocating for Tenants’ Rights

Elsa P. Chagolla wears a flowered black mid-length dress, black cardigan and her hair pulled back. She sits inside a cozy office off of Alvarado Street in MacArthur Park.

Chagolla has held leadership positions at several organizations but her passion for education and the community steered her back to working directly with people. She has been Inquilinos Unidos’ executive director since January 23, 2015.

Chagolla comes from a working class neighborhood in Whittier. Her mother wanted her to attend better schools so they moved to Walnut while she was in middle school.

“My mom doesn’t speak English; she’s an immigrant from Mexico. And just, sort of, seeing the way sometimes people viewed her or her own experience with the types of jobs she had and the opportunities she had. Maybe I became interested in social issues because of that.”

Because of her experience she wanted to work with the immigrant community.

“Mostly, these are groups that are marginalized and don’t have a strong, unified voice.”

Her degree in sociology from University of California, Berkeley was not enough to steer her in the right direction. At first she thought about becoming a lawyer so she interned for one.

“He was like, ‘You’re too nice! Don’t become a lawyer.”

Instead, she decided to complement her education with a Master of Science in Public Policy from the University of Southern California, which would allow her to pursue systemic changes. After graduating, Chagolla worked at the federal level for the Department of Education in Washington, D.C. but missed working directly with the community – so she moved back to Los Angeles.

Before landing at Inquilinos Unidos, Chagolla did philanthropy work for Roll Global LLC. But she knew she wanted to try being executive director at a community based organization focused on Latino issues. The Inquilinos Unidos board of directors and Chagolla saw eye-to-eye – it was a match.

“There’s no one doing organizing or supporting residents in this area and I think that’s why we’re so unique. We get about 10 to 15 people who call or come in everyday and then at our clinic we get about 20 people a week.”

They have a varied approach, something Chagolla speaks about with a smile.

“A lot of it is word-of-mouth and the door-to-door does help, especially if we’re in this community … They’ve heard of us and I think that says a lot about the organization’s integrity.”

When she thinks back on her career, Chagolla recounts it with pride.

“I’ve always followed what I’m really passionate about … that has made me happy and it’s where my passion lies and I like to come to work.”

But that’s not the end of the line.

“I think we need more people who care about trying to improve living conditions and social justice issues. There’s always so much more that can be done.”

Her plan for this year is to help Inquilinos Unidos’ staff size grow and continue to empower low-income families.

Former Street Vendor Builds a Life For Him and His Family

Rene Benitez finishes sweeping the floor, clocks out and grabs his backpack. It’s 10 o’clock in the evening; he’s been working 12 hours straight.

A 12-hour workday is strenuous for most, but for Benitez, it’s a breeze compared to the 18-hour workdays he was used to as a teenager.

“I would be up at 4 in the morning, helping my mom setup for the day,” Benitez said. “Then I would take the bus to school and after school, go straight to my mom’s cart and take over for her until 10, sometimes later.

Benitez grew up in Echo Park, the son of Mexican immigrants. His family had little income, so Benitez had to work and help support his parents, who worked two jobs themselves.

Benitez’s father worked as a dishwasher in a restaurant by day and as a janitor by night. His mother ran a hot dog cart during the day and would babysit in the evening. When Benitez was done with the school for the day, he would go take over the cart for his mother.

“Some of these people you see on the street are crazy,” Benitez said jokingly. “I was nervous at first, but the longer I was out there, the less nervous I got.”

Since money was always an issue, Benitez was unable to attend college, opting to work full-time after graduating high school. He now works as a waiter and a busboy at a small family owned coffee shop in the San Fernando Valley.

The skills Benitez learned as a teen are helping him tremendously now. His ability to sell and interact with people has helped him become an exceptional server.

“I have so many regular customers who always want to sit with me,” Benitez said. “I like to talk to my customers and really get to know them on a personal level.”

Benitez, now in his mid-30s, is married and has two daughters. To him, the most important thing is building a better childhood for his children than the one he had.

“I want my girls to go to school, go to college, not have to worry about money,” Benitez said. “I want them to understand the importance of money, but I’m working my butt off now so they don’t have to in the future.”

Summer Immersion 2015 Group Project Requirements

We anticipate that your group project will bring together some combination of video, audio, stills, webtext, interactive graphics and other digital elements to create a unique story form. Toward that end, a successful project must fulfill these three requirements:

  1. Your group must decide on an anchor element around which the whole multimedia project is structured. Possible focal points for your project may include (but are not limited to):
    • A. A long-form Webtext anchor piece (or series of smaller text pieces) totaling at least 1000 words. You must use the best practices of web by including links, photos, infographics and other digital or visual elements.
    • B. A video anchor piece that may have narration or may be a first-person/natural sound piece. This piece should be at least two minutes.
    • C. An audio anchor piece such as a tracked, stand-alone radio report, a first-person/ambient sound piece, or an audio slide show. This piece should be at least two minutes
    • D. A digital anchor piece such as an infographic, google map, or interactive (like a timeline).
  2. Regardless of what your group chooses as an anchor element for your project, you must also make use of other content, including multimedia, digital, and audio/visual elements. Your project must use three of the four elements listed below:
    • A. Some form of video. If your anchor element is not a video piece then this might include two or three short video interview clips or MOS/voxpop videos
    • B. Some form of audio. If your anchor element is not an audio piece then this might include short audio clips of interviews, an audio Q&A, a voxpop sound piece, or one or more short audio slide shows.
    • C. Some webtext (totaling 600 words). If your anchor element is not a longer text piece then this might be two sidebars related to your larger project, a Q&A with an interview subject, or a short profile of someone connected with your story. These elements must also follow the best practices of webtext and include links and photos (and perhaps small digital elements).
    • D. Some digital elements. If your anchor element is not a digital element then your project must have at least two digital elements – an infographic, an interactive (like a timeline), a data visualization, etc.
  3. Your group member bios (with still photos) must appear as part of your project. These will go on a separate page and do not count toward the text requirements.

Design, placement, and organization of your project elements is totally up to you and the constraints of the template you have been given.

Seeking Savings

Wearing purple face paint and a piercing stare, Angela does not look like she lives the simple life. Social media knows her by the alias “Authentic Paint,” and everyone else just knows her as Angela. Aside from her exotic makeup and alias, Angela prefers a minimalistic life—living in an Airstream.

“I prefer the Airstream lifestyle because I prefer to live in something small. I’m the opposite of a hoarder,” she said.

She grew up in the Los Angeles area and moved into the aluminum travel trailer in Fall 2010, after years of living in expensive, crowded apartments in the city. Many years of moving led her to seek a more permanent living situation. She didn’t want to share her walls and floors in a building anymore, and she wanted a home she could buy on a budget. An Airstream fit her criteria.

“It’s so much more affordable. Once you pay off the payments, it’s yours—aside from some maintenance and property costs,” Angela said.

People can buy marked-down airstreams on websites like for as low as $20,000. Dealerships like Airstream LA also sell budget-friendly trailers. After purchasing a trailer, Airstream owners can choose to buy property in a trailer park or on someone else’s property to park the Airstream. Angela has spent between $400-$800 on property spots in the Greater Los Angeles area.

“Most Airstream users choose to live in the trailer parks, especially in Los Angeles. You get the community feel without having to spend a lot of money on homes in LA neighborhoods,” she said.

She has always preferred to buy property in trailer parks because of the affordability and camaraderie. She prefers parks in more suburban areas like Anaheim and Downey because the properties feel more like campgrounds. Residents gather outside the Airstreams for neighborhood-like get-togethers. Angela enjoys socializing with all of the people in the park and wants to break the stereotype of people who choose this simpler way of life.

“People who live in Airstreams get a very bad rap. Everyone I’ve met is so hardworking and just wants to maintain a budget,” she said.

Since she has lived in an Airstream for five years, Angela is now considered a “full-timer” in the community. She moved to San Diego last year and parked her Airstream on a friend’s property. Angela hopes she’ll be able to continue her simple lifestyle for as long as possible but plans to one day have a family. After meeting many families who have also adopted the Airstream way of life, Angela hopes to have her family do the same.

“The people that impress me are the husband, wife, and kid living in one Airstream. To me, they just get the importance of simplicity.”

Inside the grind: Kian Abedini

What started as a mere liking for espresso shots roasted into a business idea for Los Angeles native, Kian Abedini.

“Not only did the taste of a well-prepared and roasted espresso shot wow me, but the effort put into making sure it was brewed correctly pulled me into the world,” said Abedini.

Almost immediately after writing his thesis at Pepperdine University on the coffee market and identifying a niche for selling high-end coffee, he began attracting business sourcing rare coffees. However, the volume that would make his business successful didn’t come until he focused on the roasting of his coffees.

“Operating a small, successful business is a marathon, not a sprint,” said Abedini.

He currently owns Compelling & Rich, a speciality coffee and tea company based in Los Angeles that supplies coffee all across the U.S. and is also in the process of opening Frequency Coffee in MacArthur Park.

“Frequency is ideally going to be a shop that services the local community with a high-level of hospitality,” said Abedini.

Keeping to this goal, all employees at Frequency will share in the net profits of the shop rather than rely on a tip system in order to produce investment in the shop’s performance. Having worked in the hospitality industry his entire life, he is committed to hiring exclusively from the local community and to giving job training that will aid employees in a future in coffee or hospitality.

When it comes to location, Abedini’s decision in MacArthur Park stems from the rich history in the area.

“The community is at the beginning of a transformative process, and out of all of the neighborhoods we considered putting Frequency in, this was the first choice by any rationale,” explained Abedini.

Frequency Coffee operated as a pop-up shop over the last four months in Downtown L.A.‘s Gelateria Uli. To get Frequency Coffee permanently up and running in MacArthur Park, Abedini has turned to crowd funding.

“This has been a personal effort I’ve been running parallel to Compelling & Rich, but since it will be a community focused shop, I hope the community will help out,” said Abedini.

Abedini’s mission for Frequency Coffee is to serve the local community with respect and humility and have a positive reputation. His desire to give back to the community was inspired by Muhammad Ali’s quote, “service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”

Abedini acknowledges that opening Frequency Coffee in MacArthur Park is not going to be easy.

“The challenge is going to be to gain the respect of the local community, while making it a destination business,” said Abedini.

Source profile assignment

Complete a profile of one source connected to your final projects. Due Friday, 8/14, 6 p.m.

Can be a text story or a digital element, including an infographic, an audio slideshow or a scripted video piece.

Keep it relatively short (for text, about 500 words; for audio/video, 1-2 minutes).

To submit, create a WordPress post and then link it in the comments of this post.

Snapchat Story

I had never used Snapchat before so I thought this would be a good opportunity to learn how the app works. Shortly after signing up for an account, I recorded all my video on my phone and saved it in my photo gallery. My profile is on a water polo player and I interviewed him in different locations. Although I couldn’t get any action shots of him in the pool because this was done after his practice, I shot b-roll of the aquatic center instead.

I didn’t know that all of the video has to be recorded on Snapchat for the footage to be imported into my “Snapchat story.” Additionally, I had no idea what a “Snapchat story” entailed or what stories are comprised of. Although part of the appeal with Snapchat is impermanence, I didn’t realize that each clip had to have a time limit of 10 seconds so that each sound bite should be very concise. When I tried uploading my footage using a third party app, I couldn’t quite edit the exact 10 seconds in a sound bite without cutting the interview in mid-sentence. Moreover, I would have made establishing shots much shorter and my pans much faster.

When I had recorded my footage, I didn’t know that all shots should be planned in order and that I couldn’t go back and edit if I wanted to. This inadvertently led to basic captions and text. I was more concerned with shooting than individually editing my clips as I go which is a huge drawback for me. Another issue I had with using a third party app is importing a lot of video. If I wanted to import more than five clips, then I would have had to pay for an upgrade.

Snapchat is useful for disseminating stories quickly. It could be useful to break a story or post short clips of a live event. This isn’t useful for posting many details or add in-depth text due to the fact you can’t edit any thing after you post. In my opinion, this app wouldn’t be useful for mundane things either because followers only want to see Snapchat stories that are newsworthy in general. Snapchat is entirely different than telling a story through broadcast or print media. I made many mistakes by shooting the story out of order with longer sound bites. I also shot all of the shots horizontally on my phone and this does not work as nicely with Snapchat. If I had seen other Snapchat stories prior to this assignment, then I would have understood the concept better and planned more accordingly.

Olvera Street Snaps

For this project, I went off campus to historic Olvera Street. My goal was to create a portrait of an area that uses the lexicon of the medium. I chose an area that was visually rich and well-populated. I made an effort to balance my coverage between the colorful shops, history and interview snips. I also tried to capture an example of all five senses at Olvera Street, but had limited success with this element.

I was conscious of creating a more ‘conversational’ narrative with Snapchat because media often fails to use social media in the same ways their users do. Keeping this in mind, I made use of Snapchat’s emoji gallery and different text tools. I kept the tone of the collection funny, personable and self-reflexive. I also made an effort not to “editorialize”, keeping with the journalistic motto of “show, don’t tell”. I think I was able to strike a balance between these two realms.

I think Snapchat could be an effective tool to use alongside traditional storytelling. The Charleston, South Carolina collection is a great example of how Snapchat can add color or personal perspective to a story or event. It gave the viewer an intimate and immediate look into the city, but needs to be complimented with a fact and source driven to be called ‘journalism’.

Snapchat is especially limiting for interviews. Editing a standard interview is an art, it is near impossible to get a good soundbite in 10 seconds without edits.

For immediate, on-the-scene coverage Snapchat can offer a glimpse into the energy and action of breaking news. Because of this immediacy, I think that Snapchat is best suited to covering dramatic, visually compelling content. I think it should almost always be complimented with more traditional news content.

In my work, Snapchat could be a great way to capture performances or an audience’s reception to performance or exhibition. I learned that experimenting with new forms of storytelling is both fun and challenging. It was a great way to evaluate how our role as journalists is evolving as we speak.