Pilsen Portal Bilingual News Site, ¿No habla español?

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This content originally appeared on my former Chicagosphere online-media blog, hosted on the Chicago Tribune‘s ChicagoNow network.

Bilingual neighborhood news in Chicago isn’t just for readers of Extra anymore. Last month, the Pilsen Planning Committee launched Pilsen Portal, a self-described bilingual community blog discussing life and happenings in one of the Windy City’s primary Latino neighborhoods. It’s a site with great promise…if only they were actually translating their content into Spanish.

In July, the Mayor’s Office announced the Digital Excellence Initiative, aimed at lessening the “digital divide” in challenged Chicago communities. Under the initiative, approximately $2 million in funding from the MacArthur Foundation, the State of Illinois, and Microsoft Corporation created a “Digital Excellence Demonstration Communities” program.

Taking part in the demonstration program are organizations in the neighborhoods of Auburn Gresham, Chicago Lawn, Englewood, and Pilsen, with The Resurrection Project serving as lead agency in Pilsen through its Pilsen Planning Committee.

For the Pilsen effort, the Planning Committee decided to launch a specifically bilingual (English/Spanish) community news site to give residents a convenient, all-in-one destination for easing onto the Internet. Because it’s modest in age, Pilsen Portal doesn’t yet have a deep archive of content. However, the breadth of the site is impressive. Features include:

The aim of the site is to be completely bilingual, and there’s a prominent button atop every page to choose English and Spanish versions of the content. Yet surprisingly for a site branded as bilingual from its debut, almost all of the content is still English-only. In fact, virtually the only elements of the site actually in Spanish are the navigation bar and other nav links.

Moreover, the photos and videos don’t seem to have been created by rank-and-file community members. Those residents, themselves, cannot yet register on Pilsen Portal to post their own stories, even though locally-created content is an intended element of the site. And anyone seeking to contact the site’s creators will find little help on a Contact Us page that gives absolutely no method of contact.

All of that is surprising, given Pilsen Portal’s genesis as a Digital Excellence Initiative website announced by the mayor’s office. Considering the large pot of funding and small number of neighborhoods involved, it seems doubtful the dearth of translated content and real community engagement could stem from a lack of money or staff power.

So what’s really going on here? Without apparent community engagement, what’s the point of Resurrection Project’s Pilsen Portal in the first place? A call to project manager Jaime Guzman seeking clarification on these issue was not immediately returned this morning.

If Pilsen Portal can get its act together and become a truly bilingual source of local news, it could serve as a focal point for a community eager to come into its own on the local blogosphere. Right now, though, the site is still very much a work in progress. There’s no doubt the website and community are on the same page.

But at the moment and for unknown reasons, they’re not speaking the same language.

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