On June 29, San Francisco media will join together in a concerted effort to raise awareness about homelessness by dedicating the entire day to writing on the issue. In addition to the participating media outlets, coverage will also be available on social media such as Facebook and Twitter and on Flipboard, Medium and Apple News.
Spearheaded by Audrey Cooper of the San Francisco Chronicle, the project has taken off since it was announced in May.
“I thought if I could get 10 outlets to do this that it would be awesome and, as of last night, we are up to 60!” said Cooper. “It’s just crazy! I got an email from ‘The Today Show’ and they want to do something!” she continued. Other organizations also involved are Mother Jones, the San Francisco Magazine, Buzzfeed SF, San Francisco Examiner and Mashable.
Homelessness in San Francisco is not a new issue. San Franciscans are familiar with the city’s most unfortunate, whether it be panhandlers on city corners or the hoards of tents that arise on the streets nightly. However, it is clear to folks like Cooper that the city needs a new approach. While giving a tour of the San Francisco Chronicle newsroom to new subscribers, Cooper was repeatedly interrupted by the yelling of a homeless man outside.
“He was yelling so loudly that you could hear it in the newsroom and one of the subscribers turned to me and said, ‘You know, you should really do a story about the solutions to homelessness.’ And my first reaction was complete irritation because we do these stories all the time,” said Cooper. “Obviously something was not hitting home. So then I start thinking, how can we tell these stories in a new way? What are we doing wrong? Why are we not penetrating the civic consciousness? And then I started thinking, well, if I can get some of my friends from other publications to join me we could be more impactful together. That led to the idea.”
The effort is noteworthy for two reasons. The first is the blending of activism and journalism. Journalism as a profession usually requires a level head and evidence-based objectivity. Activism, on the other hand, involves more passionate expression. And yet this effort is attempting to merge these two seemingly distinct forms of voice.
“We are all frustrated,” said Jon Steinberg, the editor in chief of San Francisco Magazine, another participating magazine. He spoke to the New York Times about the effort. “We are all fed up. We feel there is not enough movement and accountability on the issue.” In the same article, Courtney Martin, founder of Solutions Journalism Network, commented, “We have this bias in the media to think that our only job is the watchdog role… your job is to investigate solutions.”
The second reason this project stands out is its sheer size. “I think it is extremely rare to see so many for-profit media companies come together like this,” Cooper explained. “The media landscape is extremely competitive. It is really unusual for everyone to be talking about what they are going to write or publish or broadcast.” As for the San Francisco Chronicle, Cooper said she will try to keep her newsroom as open as possible, offering all of their photos, videos and papers to all the participating organizations.
The homelessness coverage will be spread across 60 different organizations with different perspectives. “Some are very far-left organizations and I think ours is more down the middle and others are further to the right,” said Cooper.
As for the San Francisco Chronicle, coverage will be mainly solutions-journalism oriented, but don’t expect this to resolve the issue of homelessness in one day. “There is this idea that we’re going to tell people exactly what they have to do to solve [these issues]. That, I think, is a little simplistic,” said Cooper. Instead, Cooper said the San Francisco Chronicle will propose “hypotheses.” For example, if they propose that the city needs more bed, they’ll also try to figure out how much it would cost and how feasible it is.
Cooper added that the problem of homelessness is a complex one. “I think there are a lot of different types of homelessness. You know there are those that are just absolutely so mentally ill that they can’t take care of themselves; there are people with drug and alcohol addiction; there are families; you have poverty and you have kids that want to live on the streets.”
According to HUD’s Point-In-Time count for 2015, there are 6,686 individuals on San Francisco’s streets (the number may be higher, as families and youth are considered underrepresented in this count). Forty-eight percent of respondents said they couldn’t obtain housing because rents are too high. Rental prices, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, increased by nearly 30 percent from 2000 to 2015.
You can follow that day’s coverage at http://www.sfchronicle.com/.
Sasa Jovanovic is an intern at Spare Change News and a student at Thayer Academy.