The Future is Ms. is an ongoing series of news reports by young feminists. This series is made possible by a grant from SayItForward.org in support of teen journalists and the series editor, Katina Paron.
Saideepika Rayala first noticed the issue in her own home. While Rayala’s parents often kept up with the news in their home country, India, they were disconnected from local news and neighborhood happenings in central Ohio.
“I can count on my one hand the number of times we’ve turned on English news,” Rayala told Ms. “It was usually during an election night or if there’s a snow day happening.”
The lack of accessible local news in Rayala’s home kept her family from feeling like they were a part of their community and made understanding what was happening locally and nationally difficult. As a service to them and to the others in her community, the Olentangy Liberty High School senior created Columbus Civic, a newsletter for immigrants and refugee communities in central Ohio.
From 2000 to 2017, the migrant population in the state rose more than 55 percent, according to the Migration Policy Institute. The newsletter brings important local and national news in Telugu, Frech, Tamil and English every month via email. She is looking to expand into Nepalese soon.
A student journalist, Rayala felt like she was writing one story at school, but hearing different stories at home. “It always felt like two different worlds for me,” she said. “When I was in the journalism realm I was another person then who I was at home. This newsletter helped me kind of bridge that together, those different parts of my life that were really important.”
Many communities across America suffer from lack of accessible news due to cultural or language barriers. In addition to these barriers, there are also areas in news deserts: a place in which no local news represents the community. As Montgomery County Government Media Services Manager in Maryland, Donna Keating has seen problems like the one facing Rayala’s parents across the country.
“Everybody needs to have information—about not only their government,” said Keating, who also heads the Alliance for Community Media, “but about what’s going on in their community.” Bridging the gap allows populations where English is not their first language to be able to understand their community firsthand, Keating said, rather than having someone tell them, allowing them to feel more connected.
The process of putting together Columbus Civic is ongoing. Rayala searches for headlines throughout the month, cumulating articles on both local and national news and write summaries of six articles, three national and three local. Depending on the story, Rayala adds context for readers to better understand the event. The summaries are translated by a team of 11 adult and student volunteers, then edited by people proficient in both languages, before being put in the newsletter along with a link to the original article.
The newsletter is sent out on the first Saturday of every month to over 300 subscribers. The Columbus Civic is also produced as a radio show on Fridays on WCRM Sky 102. “My neighbors are stopping me and telling me they look forward to the newsletter every month,” Rayala said, “because they can’t get that news anywhere else.”
Miliana Bocher, a freshman at New York University and the publication’s social media director, has been inspired while working with Rayala and the Columbus Civic. “Sai is really a remarkable person,” Bocher told Ms., “and she proves that there’s no age limit to being a monumental person for change in your community—especially given how homogenous I find the Columbus area to be, in terms of newsletters and access to disadvantaged communities, I think that Sai is doing a really amazing job in providing for these communities in ways that other groups haven’t.”