Since the inception of LA Public Press, we have prioritized reporting for and with the residents of the Southeast LA (SELA) region of LA County. We started talking to people on the ground in March of 2023 to understand what SELA residents need from their local journalists.

We strategically set up our table at places where we knew people would be available to speak, and comfortable to share. Maybe you caught us at the South East Rio Vista YMCA, a little league tournament in Cudahy, or a Maywood city park.  

What did we learn from the hundreds of surveys we’ve gathered? People in Southeast LA want regular, reliable news coverage of housing, public transportation, and environmental issues. Residents told us over and over how they think SELA deserves more news infrastructure to support community information networks that already exist. 

When I was in high school and on the Huntington Park Cross Country team, we regularly ran straight into the most impacted radius of lead pollution emitted by Exide Technologies. Sometimes we even ran on the contaminated dirt by train tracks. I didn’t know about the lead and I’m fairly certain none of my coaches did either. I imagine they wouldn’t want their student runners running so close to a toxin-emitting battery recycling factory. 

I didn’t learn about the lead I was likely exposed to until I read about it when I was in college. I found myself wishing that there was a news outlet that would have alerted us to the pollution in my community and provided practical lead safety advice. 

Now, I work in one.

For way too long, spreading the word in SELA has primarily relied on the hard work of organizers and neighbors to distribute the news. We need news sources that acknowledge the information gap in SELA and support the work that has already been done in the community to spread information. 

During the early stages of the Exide lead cleanup, one of the largest environmental clean-ups in California history, those who were advocating for themselves and their neighbors – my friends – made sure that whatever informational material they received on the pollution and clean-up efforts were accessible to both English and Spanish speaking residents. Sometimes they would do the translation themselves. 

It taught me the lesson how, even in our digitized world, there are ways to spread information that go beyond websites and algorithms. It’s essential to be a part of the fabric of a community in order to share information.

When Matthew Tinoco brought me on to build the LA Public Press audience, and start identifying audiences and surveying audiences, I started in SELA. I didn’t have to win trust, I already knew community members.

I am not just doing this work myself, I’m joined by two other talented journalists from SELA; Ashley Orona, and Amanda Del Cid Lugo. 

Before we began surveying, I met with community leaders from educators, elected officials, organizers, and local business owners in SELA to identify the best ways to survey audiences in their communities. 

After we had a plan set up, we were on our way surveying. We chose spaces where we knew local residents would attend and would likely have a few extra minutes to spare to speak with us. Amanda Del Cid Lugo tirelessly took on the bulk of the surveying, using bilingual printed-out surveys. To this day Amanda continues to connect with community leaders and build LA Public Press’ presence in SELA. 

More, Amanda has reported out critical stories like this story about street vendors getting their street carts confiscated in Huntington Park and why Bell Gardens unanimously passed a ceasefire resolution.  

“People who are in these cities are not only in need of news and information but they are also desperately seeking to be heard and understood,” Del Cid Lugo said about her surveying efforts.

Ashley has reported about a rent control ordinance being passed in Cudahy and a rent freeze extension in Maywood.

Her role also includes coverage of unincorporated LA County, where she is from. While many people in LA and Southeast LA are represented by specific cities, many of them are not and rely directly on the county for services. Ashley knows that and it’s why she is diligently reporting on how the county of LA is serving people. She told me that she knows the difficulty of figuring out who is supposed to provide essential services like trash pick-up or fixing potholes. She told me the other day: “That’s where we come in.”

SELA is a place dear to me, but SELA is just the start – LA County needs more journalism that puts residents first, and it needs it now. 

Mariah is a journalist who can be found at one of LA's many libraries, and supporting local musicians and street vendors.