El Tecolote newspaper began as a project in a La Raza Studies class at San Francisco State University. Prof. Juan Gonzales created the class as a way to channel more Latinos into journalism. In the 1970s, Latinos and other people of color were virtually invisible in the major newsrooms.
As a final project, the class produced a bilingual newspaper called El Tecolote, which hit the streets on August 24, 1970. The newspaper soon moved to the community and became a training ground for the community to learn advocacy journalism.
El Tecolote began as a volunteer effort and continues in that vein with approximately 90 percent of the staff dedicated volunteers. It is the longest running Spanish/English bilingual newspaper in California.
The newspaper has played an important advocacy role in the community, taking up vital community issues often ignored by the mainstream news media. Some of these issues include:
In the early ’70s, El Tecolote conducted a two-year study of the 911 emergency hotline and found that it took an average of four minutes longer for Spanish speaking residents to get assistance. El Tecolote news coverage on the lack of bilingual operators combined with community activism resulted in hearings before the Public Utilities Commission.
In 1977, El Tecolote received complaints from several concerned workers at SF General Hospital regarding the lack of trained medical translators. El Tecolote’s consistent coverage helped to spread the word of this critical issue. Eventually, the State Department of Health investigated and issued the hospital a letter of non-compliance on bilingual services. Ten months after El Tecolote’s coverage began, the hospital established a bilingual unit with 26 interpreters trained in medical terminology.
El Tecolote has also played an important role in promoting the talents of Mission district artists. The Arts & Culture pages were often the first to cover local artists who are now nationally recognized. In 1971 the newspaper interviewed with Jose Santana, the proud father of the talented up-and-coming guitarist, Carlos Santana. El Tecolote first covered internationally renowned Latin jazz percussionist John Santos when he was arrested as a teenager in San Francisco’s Dolores Park for playing his conga drum too loudly. These are just two examples of a vast collection of articles that have recognized and promoted local talent.
Over the years the newspaper has published several special supplements, including a literary section (Revista Literaria) edited by local Latino writers, a youth publication (Fuerza Joven) — which provided training for neighborhood teens — and informational fotonovelas covering topics ranging from the 2010 census, youth depression, and domestic violence.
El Tecolote’s archives represent a historical record of Mission district activism and the social, political, cultural and economic development of the community since 1970.
Continuing the legacy
Today El Tecolote continues to provide original local news, portraying the diverse spectrum of Latino life.
El Tecolote is a proven pipeline for Latinos to enter the field of journalism. Several volunteers and interns who began their journalism experience at El Tecolote have gone on to full-time journalism careers in the mainstream media. They include Hector Tobar, former Mexico City bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times and others who work at the West Palm Beach Post, Sacramento Bee, San Diego Tribune, Contra Costa Times, Modesto Bee and the Center for Investigative Reporting. This role is especially important today when only 14 percent of the editorial staff in daily newsrooms is Latino and when urban high school journalism programs have disappeared due to budgetary cutbacks.
In addition to the online site, 10,000 free copies of El Tecolote are distributed every two weeks throughout the Mission District and the East Bay via restaurants, libraries, clinics and social service centers.
El Tecolote is a member of the San Francisco Neighborhood Newspaper Association, a group of 16 neighborhood-based newspapers, and a founding member of New America Media, a national network of ethnic news media.
El Tecolote truly is a community institution. Help keep El Tecolote alive. Donate.