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Puerto Rico: Prensa Comunitaria, A Project of Media Activism

Prensa Comunitaria [es] (Community Press) was founded in 2004 with the objective to empower the Puerto Rican communities through the creation of media. In its beginnings, it created a net of community newspapers, and then developed alternative radio and television shows and, more recently, produced a series of shorts for a community movie forum. Prensa Comunitaria is one of the most important projects of citizen journalism in a country where traditional media establish the daily news agenda and direct public opinion.

This video, produced by Prensa Comunitaria (and published in their YouTube page), presents the demolition of houses in the Vietnam barrio, in the city of Guaynabo, Puerto Rico: Demolition of houses in the Vietnam community.

The board president of Prensa Comunitaria, Samuel Rosario, talked with Global Voices about the birth of the project, its work in the communities, the importance of citizen journalism, and the relationships with traditional media.

Global Voices (GV)- With what objective was Prensa Comunitaria conceived? Why and what for?

Samuel Rosario (SR)- Prensa Comunitaria is a direct response to the indignation towards how the national media construes us. It became revolting that only the criminality in our communities was pointed out. In a way, the initial intention was proof that ‘not all of us are criminals, that there are also good and working people.’ But, early on in the editorial discussions, it also became clear that to occupy a supervising role of the government and of education among our people were inherent responsibilities of the handling of information.

GV- How is the relationship between the communities and the commercial press in Puerto Rico? How is the coverage?

SR-There is an almost universal resentment in our communities with the national press. No one who lives in our barrios, housing projects, and special communities around Puerto Rico misses the fact that in order to invisibilize our development work  and the almost exclusive coverage of our ills, we stand out in front of the public as a homogeneous group of scoundrels and criminals. Even though in recent years a mild change has occurred in the media, this hardly makes up for the damage inflicted upon us for so many decades; the image and public perception has already been set up. The national press does not have a reparation project with us in mind. They do not even know how necessary this is for the construction of a country.

"Cineforo Comunitario." Photo courtesy Prensa Comunitaria.

GV- How does community media contribute to the development of a community? How does it empower the people of this community?

SR-The benefit of community media for the country, not only for the communities themselves, is multidimensional. One of the most dramatics effects, based on the premise of a press with real penetration, is a less biased full public discussion. A discussion that, among other things, unpacks the ill-founded generalized belief that we are poor because we want to be poor.

The institutionalization of a vigorous community press is also the demystification of media in general. In a way a feeling of equality begins to grow among our people related to more privilege social groups. Another great benefit of community development is that the groups, mostly the leaders who are responsible of content production, almost invariably, begin to modify their perspectives as a result of the rigorous process of making social journalism. They become more critical and deepen their analysis.

GV- How has the incursion of the project in the Internet been?

SR-In terms of content, the biggest difference between the use of the Internet and the rest of the media, at least for now, is that it has to be exclusively directed to people outside of our communities. The little penetration of the Internet in our communities does not allow us to direct our efforts completely to our community. But, at least for me, the actual work on the site is in transition. The technological advances and the behavior of users, foretells, for the next years, the merging of television and the internet. And we, like the rest of the industry, are trying to anticipate how this new information websites will look like.

Another matter here is the identification of economic resources to sustain the website. In Puerto Rico, still, advertisement investment in the Internet is not enough, neither is the subscription model. How the communities will integrate with the Internet depends largely on how we resolve these issues.

GV- What have been some of the reactions of the participants of your projects?

SR-If we consider the development process to be linear and that the first phase is to help the groups respect themselves, then one of the most significant experiences has to be the day the first edition of the alternative newspaper Raíces circulated in Guarico, a remote neighborhood of Corozal. A lot of people gathered around the newsstand…They had been waiting for the papers since the previous day. Doña Gladys, the leader of the community and owner of the house where we were, dropped the package, and began, one by one, to share them… When they picked the paper, they began to read quietly and with great concentration…Later their astonished faces became eloquent expressions of the magic of moment… “This is us”… “The whole newspaper is about us”… The phrase I'll never forget was uttered by Doña Gladys to Pablo, a man with alcohol problems that made ends meet cleaning patios and whose poetry was published: “You see Piolín, we are important…We have worth.”

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