Tuesday, March 23, 2010
(published on SF Appeal and New America Media)
The census may be, on any given day, the best way to compare huge swaths of society - say, blacks to whites, Oakland's population to San Francisco's or children to seniors.
But just now, as census forms arrive in the mail, there's only one social comparison that matters. And the census is way out of its depth to handle it.
Who will answer the census and who will neglect those 10 questions, essential for deciding how many millions in federal funds come to California over the next decade?
The answers can't be found at the regional census bureau, but insights were available at the Centro del Pueblo in the Mission District on Friday. All 13 nonprofits spearheading outreach to the city's hard to count populations were on hand, each with roots in a separate neighborhood, its team of a different skin color, and speaking a different language. Their goal over the next six weeks: to reach 60,000 households of an estimated 100,000 residents who were not counted in the 2000 census.
Lofty, sure, but what is impressive is how studiously these nonprofits are going about courting their targets. Blacks in Bayview, Latinos in Excelsior and Philippinos in SoMA each have their own reasons for not trusting the federal government. Each requires a tailored stump speech delivered in a certain way from a person they might be inclined to trust before they'll show grandma has been living under the sofa or count their undocumented friend crashing in the basement.
Considering that swaying one resident could mean an additional $3000 for San Francisco, canvassers are unafraid to hit the same house twice, even three times.
While the predominantly black Bayview was the most undercounted section of the city during the last census, Latinos also have their hands full, facing a fully lobby of Hispanic pastors advocating boycotting the census.
This video details the subtle but important ways the battle for an accurate count changes shape from one neighborhood to the next.
Thursday, March 4, 2010
Despite the many innovations of San Francisco 2010, a lot of public data is still hard to access, siloed within individual city departments and time-consuming to unearth. Some feel that as a result of this lack of transparency, politicians too often set policies without worrying the public might contest their assumptions about the community - like if hot spots of poor health have access to hospitals. Meanwhile, traditional and new media reporters are hobbled in their ability to inform citizens as thoroughly as they could, not simply because of the much-ballyhooed cutbacks in mainstream news orgs, but because California's data - that driver of policies and lifeblood of journalism - is hard as hell to get at.
"How we get privately held data and publicly held data is very painstaking," said Denise Gammal, vice president for strategy and organizational learning at Bay Area United Way. "There hasn't been a great source that's readily available and easy to use for a wider audience."
A new statewide community data-mapping Web site called Healthy City California, slated to launch Wednesday, hopes to change all that.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
When Jonathan Weber took the job of editor-in-chief of the Bay Area News Project a few weeks ago, 200 resumes lay waiting for him. I'm sure that some of the more than one hundred job-starved journalists crammed into the "meet Jonathan Weber" event held Wednesday night at the World Affairs Council had resumes on that pile -- I know mine's there -- and there was more naked desperation in that room than at a match.com gathering.
Weber's only getting around to answering his applicants now, sifting through them to find 15 hires, half of whom will be reporting for the news org. Those 7.5 people will be a mix of junior and senior reporters, covering enterprise, big stories, daily news, traditional civic beats, cops and courts, environment and healthcare.
He admits it's impossible to truly cover all those beats with such a small staff and that some reporters will have to wear multiple hats, but that he hopes to triple their numbers over the next four years.
Other staff will be editors who are "outwardly focused," coordinating paid contributors, bloggers, and citizen journalists, while editing 40-50 stories per week. A third group will focus on delivery, "productizing" the news through Web and mobile. Weber is also setting aside a "significant budget" for freelancers. And he'll hire some paid interns.
Management-wise, they've just hired Brian Kelley as the chief technology officer (and announced it via twitter, how 3.0).
During Q & A, older journalists' questions showed anxiety that they wouldn't be hired because they were too old and not tech-savvy enough. Many younger reporters' remarks seemed designed to demonstrate that they're Very Serious About Journalism, betraying a lack of experience.
As for partnerships, you already know that the New York Times is in -- starting in June, BANP will produce two of pages twice/week for the Bay Area edition. And KQED is out, after "discussions (that) did not result in an agreement." AWKward.
While temporarily housed in space provided by a law firm at 555 Mission, BANP is looking for permanent digs somewhere downtown. The $5 million initiative, now under his direction (and allegedly no longer that of its principal funder, Warren Hellman), is slated to launch in late spring of this year. It's also hoping to lock down a permanent name that doesn't ruffle the feathers of the 200 locally-based news organizations with San Francisco in their name.
Slideshow from the event: Steve Rhodes