The Public Press Blog

3rd John Swett Award from the California Teachers Association

The California Teachers Association honored the San Francisco Public Press with a John Swett Award for Media Excellence on Friday, June 2. Jeremy Adam Smith, who was the lead reporter for the special report on bilingual schools, attended the awards ceremony in Los Angeles. This is the third time the Public Press has received a John Swett Award for education reporting led by Smith.

Left to right: United Educators of San Francisco President Lita Blanc, CTA Vice President Theresa Montano, Jeremy Adam Smith, CTA State Council Communications Committee Chair Mona Davidson, CTA President Eric Heins and CTA Secretary-Treasurer David Goldberg. Photo courtesy of California Teachers Association.

Meet Our Staff Editors

Our newsroom editing team works with dozens of freelance reporters, editors, photographers, illustrators, designers and interns to guide our in-depth stories uncovering public policy problems and investigating solutions.

Michael Winter, Senior Editor

“Vietnam, Nixon and Watergate had exhausted the country, and Jimmy Carter was president when I wandered into journalism, first in college radio, then newspapers. Since then, I’ve reported, edited, blogged, done press checks; worked at major metro and national dailies; helped get SF Weekly off the ground; helped publish a magazine; adopted early to digital news; taught editing; trained staffs overseas. I’ve been part of the Public Press since Day One.

“My role in the newsroom is to make writers’ lives difficult, unfortunately. So many questions! Comments! Revisions! We work a story hard, digging for as much detail, context and insight as possible. I’m a bit like a camera lens that both zooms in to macro and pulls back to wide angle, all the while looking for what might be obscured or hidden (X-ray glasses come in handy).”

Noah Arroyo, Assistant Editor & Lead Reporter

“We’re always looking for deep insights — generally, that entails a lot of digging for empirical evidence. To get that, we regularly seek out and pester experts and government officials, camping out in front of their offices when necessary. On many days I’ve set a recurring alarm on my phone, reminding me to call a source again and again until I reach them.

“That’s how we get the insider’s perspective. That’s how we get the data that allows us to create spreadsheets and charts mapping out the complex anatomy of a topic. After getting this broad view, we ask ourselves which aspects would be most important to readers.”

Our Interns: Sarah Asch, Zach Benjamin and Hannah Kaplan

Meet Our Newest Board Member: Kaizar Campwala

“Local journalism matters. The Public Press is a standout example of a team that doesn’t compromise in their mission to hold local government to account. At the same time, they approach their job of informing citizens with an openness to think outside the box and cut through the noise that overwhelms media consumers today.”

— Kaizar Campwala


Kaizar is the Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Al Jazeera Digital, where he is launching a new, audio-focused media brand later this year. He previously helped develop CALmatters, which he helped develop from an idea to a fully-funded operation as president and co-founder. The Sacramento-based reporting venture focuses on explaining the policy and politics of California state government. government. Before that, Kaizar was director of content and partnerships at Stitcher, the leading independent mobile podcast app; and managing editor of NewsTrust, a news aggregator focused on crowdsourcing authoritative journalism. He began his career developing communications solutions for the City of New York. He earned an A.B. in political science from Brown University, and an MBA from UCLA.

We are Hiring!

The San Francisco Public Press is looking for enthusiastic news ambassadors for our community outreach team. Are you interested? Do you know someone we should hire?

This job entails selling or giving away newspapers at public events and outdoor venues with high foot traffic, canvassing and introducing the Public Press to new audiences. We will need people days and evenings during the week, and during the day on weekends.

We are looking for people who are:

  • fun, outgoing and passionate about news
  • have a strong interest in local, independent, in-depth journalism
  • enjoy being outside and interacting with a wide range of people
  • can be on your feet for 3-4 hours at a time

Pay is $15/hour. If you are interested, send an email to Daphne Magnawa, Director of Membership & Community at jobs[at]sfpublicpress[dot]org.

Threats to Freedom of the Press Are Real

Journalists across the country are wringing their hands about how they might have enabled, or at least tolerated, the rise of an impulsive, would-be strongman in Washington. Donald Trump has plainly pledged to sue journalists for offending him, blacklist reporters from access to government sources and public records, break up media companies that question his policies and crack down on protesters.

The election has accelerated conversation about the meaning of the philosophically fraught term “objectivity.” In the new political era, taking that word too literally clearly risks coming in conflict with other principles we hold dear: free speech, the rule of law, the public’s right to know and the democratic process itself.

The Public Press has always abided by a nonpartisan, nonadvocacy stance — one we intend to maintain. At the same time, the changing tenor of the national political debate has encouraged us to reconnect with and reaffirm what we think of as a “pro-public” bias.

We believe, too, that journalists have a responsibility not just to tell the truth, however much it makes us uncomfortable, but also to facilitate conversation around solutions to common problems. Though the challenges may be great, and many people are likely to be hurt in the conflicts to come, the need for empowerment and engagement in politics and public life is perhaps greater than it was before the election.

We are planning, in the coming year, to launch new investigations that question those in positions of power and give voice to the voiceless. National and local policies are inextricably linked, and local journalism is all the more needed today — to expose problems and conflicts as they happen, document societal and economic changes, and expand the range of perspectives considered seriously by policymakers.

But that will not be enough. The ascension of Trump and his anti-First Amendment fellow travelers sharpens the responsibility of the press to call out abuse of power and any hint of a drift toward autocracy. As local journalists we must be vigilant in defending the public’s right to know — even when that requires open defiance of the power structure.

To do this, we need your help. Donating to the Public Press is a way to affirm your commitment to a free, independent and responsible press that can serve as a bulwark against chill winds that may blow west from Washington as well as homegrown dysfunction in government and the private sector.

Thank you for your support.

Sincerely,

Michael Stoll, executive director
Lila LaHood, publisher

 

Join Us at the SF Green Festival Nov. 11-13

San Francisco Green Festival

Join the San Francisco Public Press at the San Francisco Green Festival Nov. 11-13 at Pier 35. Visit our outreach team at the Public Press booth throughout the weekend. More details and ticket info.

The festival will feature more than 250 exhibitors and a full schedule of speakers adressing a wide range of topics on the environment and sustainable living trends, as well as free yoga sessions and cooking demonstrations. Visitors can sample local vegan and vegetarian food, and meet exhibitors selling products that promote personal health and collective concern for the environment. 

Our Executive Director Michael Stoll will give a presentation as a featured festival speaker at 1:30 p.m. on Nov. 11. He will talk about our research on how sea level rise will affect waterfront developments around the Bay Area.

The event is free for members of Green America, Global Exchange and the Sierra Club, and anyone who arrives on a bicycle — just take your bike helmet to the ticket booth for free entry. Admission is free for all children ages 16 and under. Special discounts are available for students, seniors, veterans and military families.

For more information on the Green Festival in San Francisco and other locations around the country, visit greenfestivals.org.

Eric and Erika Lawson at the San Francisco Green Festival in 2014.

Community Outreach for LPFM Radio Project Kicks Off

Thank you to the 40+ people who showed up last Thursday for our community meeting to discuss ideas for a start-up radio venture in San Francisco!

The background: The San Francisco Public Press is exploring the possibility of setting up a new low-power FM radio station after winning a permit from Federal Communications Commission to broadcast on the frequency 102.5 FM. We have 18 months (renewable for an additional 18 months) to move forward. We have a timeshare agreement with San Francisco Community Radio (formerly KUSF in Exile) for each group to get 12 hours a day on the same channel.

What happened: In two hours on Thursday, we scratched the surface of what’s possible in terms of content creation, writing a set of shared values, seeking organizational partnerships and exploring new storytelling formats. We are reaching out to individuals who are interested in participating as staff, volunteers, donors, or allies. We will provide more opportunities to brainstorm ideas for diverse public-service programming, including journalism, public events, talk shows and more. Check out this excellent summary on Medium from Samantha Clark, a journalism student at U.C. Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.

What’s next: We have lots of news to share with you and are preparing a thorough report-back from the meeting. In the meantime, we are setting up a Google Group for people who want to learn more and get involved. If you’ve already provided us with your email, we’ll be sending you an invitation in the next few days. We also plan to hold additional meetings this fall. If you’d like to hear how you can get involved email radio [at] sfpublicpress.org.

David Cay Johnston: Forget Job Security in the Gig Economy



Investigative journalist David Cay Johnston and KALW-FM “Your Call” host Rose Aguilar discuss the “gig economy” at Impact HUB San Francisco. Photo by Noah Arroyo / San Francisco Public Press

A recent program took a hard, unforgiving look at the so-called gig economy and how it affects freelance and contract workers. Rose Aguilar, host of  “Your Call” on KALW public radio, interviewed Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist David Cay Johnston. The wide-ranging conversation, followed by a lively Q&A session, dissected how this new economic reality had changed the traditional workplace of salaries and benefits, and had undermined safeguards for working conditions and wages. Johnston, however, did suggest how people and the government could provide possible solutions.

The program, “Are Independent Contractors Being Shortchanged? Job Security in the Gig Economy,” was part of the Sustainable SF series in partnership with San Francisco Public Press and KALW Public Radio, and was hosted by Impact HUB San Francisco

The discussion began with defining the terms, and Aguilar frowned on the use of “sharing economy” and instead opted for the “gig economy.” The term describes workers who toil as freelancers or independent contractors, typically in jobs such as driving for Uber, delivering and providing goods and services, e.g., for TaskRabbit, and freelance writing. 

Both agreed that the demand for such labor is there. 

“I found that you can order a house cleaner, a chef, someone that will stock your bar and bartend for you, a personal shopper, a masseuse, you can pay to have your packages shipped,” Aguilar said.

She cited a recent survey by Emergent Research that found that the number of independent contractors would double by 2020, from 3.2 million now to more than 7.6 million — figures that appeared to be on the low side for Johnston and Aguilar.

“The number of people in that kind of employment is going to see a rise because that’s what the legal system is allowing to happen,” said Johnston, author of the just-published "The Making of Donald Trump."

The issues of fair wages and worker benefits are nothing new, he pointed out. 

“We have trial records from 3,500 years ago in Egypt. The ancients figured out all this stuff a long time ago," said Johnston, who teaches property, tax and regulatory law of the ancient world at Syracuse University's schools of law and management. "We have always had legal issues about how do we pay people, what’s fair in paying people, and what are the rules of how you pay people.”

Even as far as back then, he said, there were dire warnings about putting too much power into the hands of an employers.

Johnston then turned his attention to the here and now — the plight of the gig worker. It is an economy where workers live paycheck to paycheck and have no benefits, and where employers’ responsibility toward worker is diminishing and labor laws are being dismantled. 

Aguilar pointed out that independent contractors surveyed said that while they like some of the flexibility in their schedules, what they didn’t like was lack of a guaranteed a wage, paid family and sick days, and health insurance.

Not exactly a rah-rah for the gig economy, circa 2016. 

Johnston made it very clear that he is an advocate of salaries, and not of the hit-and-miss income fluctuations typical in the gig economy. 

Properly paid employees are free because they pay for themselves, he said, adding later that salaries provide a steady, reliable source of income. The only way a gig economy works is if you don’t have full employment, he noted, pointing to  San Francisco employers’ difficulty have in finding workers because many cannot afford to live in the city. 

“People show up for a salaried job. And, by the way, if we don’t do that, how are people going to afford a mortgage?" Johnston said. "How are they going to afford anything if they don’t have a steady, reliable source of income? …  Most human beings want to get a paycheck every week.”

He blamed the erosion of salaried employment on post-Ronald Reagan laws. 

Labor laws in America have changed dramatically in the 36 years since the beginning of  age of Reagan, according to Johnston.  During this time, he said, workers’ rights have been reduced along with the responsibilities of of employers toward workers. 

Aguilar’s questions then zeroed in on the following issues. 

Is there hope in unionizing?

Johnston was pessimistic about what unions can do to improve salaries and benefits for gig workers. Anti-labor laws proliferate, he said, cutting into union-organizing efforts. Instead of unions, he suggested that the government should be the stand in for workers’ rights. The government should impose laws that, for example, establish a minimum wage or, as a condition of contracting with the government, employers should  be required to pay fair wages and provide benefits. The government can set the rules, not the employers, Johnston said. 

He stressed, too, that it is important  to vote — people can vote out of office the politician who goes against their economic interests. He waxed elegiac, veering into the biblical: It is evil to take from the widow and give to a king, according to the Bible, he said. Some of that evil could be seen in the actions of the Koch brothers and their monetary influence in a Wisconsin that is now run on what he called "Kochian principles." 

He did cite victories for workers and the forces of change: the Civil War ended slavery, child labor was outlawed, women got the right to vote, and local governments are raising the minimum wage. 

But what about Uber? Aguilar said, pointing out its popularity. Johnston, however, cautioned people to look at the big picture. Salary stability and benefits are left behind in this digital age, and, unfortunately, he said, we’re stuck with antiquated rules and haven’t yet figured out how to apply them to a digital world. 

Are lawsuits — filed by independent contractors to be salaried employees — the answer?

Johnston, again, was pessimistic. He noted how advocates like Ralph Nader were seen as a threat by Republicans who then appointed much of the judiciary. The problem, he said, is you have to have judges who don’t follow some ideological pattern and weren’t picked for that, they were picked for their devotion to the principles of law” — and that situation is becoming increasingly rare.

The spirited Q&A session followed the interview, further airing the issues of the gig economy.

To learn more about wage-and-hour issues, read the San Francisco Public Press fall 2014 Special Report “Minimum Wage.”

Video by Hyunha Kim / San Francisco Public Press

Talking on the Radio About Money in S.F. Politics

Public Press Assistant Editor Noah Arroyo, right, with Mission Local reporter Joe Rivano Barros, at Bff.fm. Photo by Laura Wenus / Mission Local

 

San Francisco Public Press Assistant Editor Noah Arroyo discussed money in city elections with Mission Local reporter Joe Rivano Barros on BFF.fm radio Thursday morning. The show was hosted by Mission Local Managing Editor Laura Wenus.

[LISTEN HERE]

“The first rule of politics is: follow the money,” Wenus said.

Arroyo’s latest stories unpack a November ballot measure to limit lobbyists from “bundling” certain campaign contributions from several sources. If passed, the measure would also further restrict gift-giving and require lobbyists to notify the San Francisco Ethics Commission whom they will contact beforehand. But Arroyo has already identified possible loopholes.

“A lot of this stuff is complaint-driven,” Arroyo said on the possibility of donations being anonymously bundled into a single contribution when they actually come from a handful of wealthy individuals. “And when it comes to gift-giving, the city doesn’t even track it.”

Barros analyzed campaign finance records in this year’s District 9 supervisor race using public records released this week by the Ethics Commission. There is a $100,000 gap between Hillary Ronen, chief of staff of termed-out D9 Supervisor David Campos, and her closest competitor, Joshua Arce, the community liaison for Laborers Union Local 261. Only Ronen has accepted lobbyist funds so far -- $2,700, or just over 1% of her campaign’s total.  But a third-party committee funded by the Police Officers Association and labor unions has raised $180,000 and is spending thousands on promoting Arce and other candidates.

Interested in learning more about money influencing San Francisco politics? The Public Press’ summer issue, due out Aug. 10, examines the web of campaign finance in last November’s election. Stay tuned!

Grants from Fund for Investigative Journalism and Cal Humanities

The San Francisco Public Press received two new grants this summer for investigative reporting projects: a $3,000 grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism for follow-up reporting on sea level rise in the Bay Area — the focus of our investigative report in Issue No. 17 — and a $10,000 grant from Cal Humanities for an education reporting project.

This is the Public Press’ first grant from Cal Humanities and its fifth grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism.

We are grateful to Cal Humanities and the Fund for Investigative Journalism for their support.

Syndicate content