I’ve never seen it myself since I don’t live in Sacramento, but my impression is that FOX40 is a pretty bad news station, prone to reporting crazy-ass rumors as if they were true. (Though you could say that for most local newscasts, I suppose.) Anyway, last night they went to report on the new downtown Kings arena, and found that, glory be, it hasn’t cured homelessness:
One downtown with two very different faces. The drive to revive Sacramento is evident in a state-of-the-art arena. But that effort is facing a troubling problem on the streets.
One downtown, there is hope for a rebirth of a city and emergence from the shadows. The other: where people feel hopeless, forgotten in the shadows.
“They could spend $500 million on a basketball court, but they won’t put out a dime to help the homeless people,” said Larry, who lives on the streets.
The struggle on the streets juxtaposed to a downtown on the cusp of a rebirth.
It goes on and on like that, and on the one hand, using the Kings arena as a hook to examine chronic homelessness (though the examination doesn’t get much past “it exists”) isn’t the worst thing in the world. But on the other, this report reveals how deeply messed up local development reporting can be.
The key is that word “rebirth.” In developer-speak, all too often parroted by local news reports, rebirth or revitalization or renaissance is what happens to neighborhoods when you build new stuff. And new stuff is new, and newness is supposed to fix everything, whether it’s lack of jobs or a strained city treasury or the team being a chaotic disaster or, apparently, homelessness. We built you a new basketball arena, poor people, why do you persist in not being able to afford homes?
This is, frankly, an insane way to report on anything. If you want to go out and talk about how having homeless people sleeping downtown is an embarrassment to the elected officials who are trying to sell Sacramento as all cleaned up now, go for it. But noting all the new construction taking place downtown and then asking “Will it work?”, as FOX 40 does, shows a stunning misunderstanding of what redevelopment is supposed to accomplish — or worse, is an implication that the only “revitalization” that counts is the kind that makes the homeless disappear to somewhere else. After all, the Olympics get away with it.
I don’t want to come down too hard on the FOX40 reporters, really I don’t. But if you’re going to be a journalist, it’s vitally important that you not only think about what you’re covering, but about how you’re covering it, and what assumptions go into the way you frame your story. This news item ends up telling one story in its text — “homelessness bad and intractable!” — and another in its subtext — “how much concrete do we have to pour in order to fix social problems?” Sometimes good journalism is less about finding the right answers than asking the right questions.