MIAMI — Riots, drug deals, unemployment, mass shootings. While Miami has made its name as an urban oasis, its northwest corner has become well-known for something else.
News accounts about the Liberty City community, one of South Florida’s largest historically black communities, have long zeroed in on its most negative aspects, spotlighting it as a notoriously dangerous section in the shadows of the glitz of Miami Beach.
But the colorful murals of black heroes on Liberty City’s buildings stand for the spirit of what is, in fact, a thriving community.
To improve the scope of media coverage of the area, the South Florida Times has partnered with Florida International University’s School of Journalism in a project called Liberty City Link.
“We are extraordinarily excited about our partnership with FIU,’’ said Robert G. Beatty, Esq., publisher of the South Florida Times. “It will yield quality journalists and quality journalism in a part of our community that is culturally rich, politically intriguing and vital to South Florida’s success.’’
Led by Neil Reisner, a veteran journalist and FIU professor, student reporters are working on stories that shed light on basic facts and what highlights the area’s development.
“Liberty City is no different than any other neighborhoods in that its residents are doing the best they can to get by,” said Reisner, a nationally known journalism trainer who has 30 years of experience at newspapers, including stints at The Miami Herald and the Daily Business Review, as well as other newspapers. “We want to give Liberty City a new voice.”
To extend its reach in the community, the South Florida Times will dedicate at least one new page of its print version to the content, and the link will have a special section on the newspaper’s website. The project will be unveiled in the March 12 edition of the newspaper and its website, SFLTimes.com, as well as FIU’s website.
Among the story topics that will be covered in Liberty City Link are profiles of family businesses and community leaders, examinations of how failing schools can be improved, after-school programs that keep young people off the streets, mentoring groups that pair people from older generations with youth and events at the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center.
“Media has helped create a negative stigma about us, and I’m glad the media itself is trying to be part of the solution to fix the problem,” said Alison Austin, CEO of the Belafonte Tacolcy Center, a youth development organization that offers services for children and families in Liberty City. “We face challenges like any other community. But unfortunately, many people are more interested in reading about six people that got shot than six people who graduated.”
Reisner’s group of 17 student reporters, of whom only one is African-American, said they are thrilled about the real-world experience.
“We are learning to deal with the accountability of getting published,” said Alexandra Martinez of West Kendall. “It forces you to get out there, get things done.”
In classes structured as thorough editorial meetings, Reisner guides students on how to dig deeper to find meaningful stories in unfamiliar places.
“Students learn to cover a community they’re not part of,” said Reisner. “And that as journalists it is OK to ask questions to people they don’t completely relate to, as long as they are honest about what they want to know.”
Ronnie Figueroa, a senior, said that his interaction with the community has given him a new perspective on the impact of journalism.
“I had been to Liberty City before, but this time it was more of an overall experience than what I saw behind the windshield of my car,” he said. “It is very powerful to tell stories that are undertold or not told at all – you can make a difference on how the community is portrayed not only to others but to itself.”
Photo by Khary Bruyning. Neil Reisner