‘Nobody Is Going To Cover Our Communities Like We Do’: Independent News Leaders Discuss Essential Nature Of Their Work

Four independent news outlet leaders discussed how their work has been changed by the COVID-19 pandemic for a virtual panel promoting the Save SF News fundraiser.

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Despite the pandemic, San Francisco’s independent news outlets such as Mission Local, 48 Hills, the Bay Area Reporter and the San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper have continued and enhanced their reporting for their communities.

Leaders of the four publications spoke at the virtual panel “Why SF’s Independent Press is Essential,” hosted by Alex Mullaney, Ingleside Light editor and publisher and organizer of the Save SF News fundraiser.

The publications are filling news holes in a landscape dominated by media giants like the San Francisco Chronicle.

“I think the Chronicle is trying to — maybe, in a way — be too much in this whole sort of Bay Area look at things,” Mission Local Executive Editor Lydia Chávez said. “It’s a way of muting everything.”

San Francisco’s first shelter-in-place order prompted Mission Local to increase its Spanish story translations and design a Spanish text service to provide community members useful information, especially for immediate use. Chávez hit the ground reporting.

After the Chronicle published an article about the city’s relatively low novel coronavirus case rate, Chávez and reporter Annika Hom reported on data showing that Latinos citywide are experiencing a case rate higher than those of localities with case rates appearing worse-off.

Hers was a brand of critical coverage that Bay Area Reporter Publisher Michael Yamashita sees in his own publication, the longest-existing and highest-circulating LGBTQ+ newspaper in the U.S.

Bay Area Reporter let go of two full-time employees due to falling ad revenue and shifted coverage to spotlight COVID-19’s impact on the region’s LGBTQ+ communities.

As early as March 17, 2020, Bay Area Reporter covered how California had fallen behind in collecting and publishing sexual orientation and gender identity data required to write policy for the LGBTQ+ communities. Weeks later, State Senator Scott Wiener introduced legislation requiring California to collect SOGI data on novel coronavirus patients.

The instance was one that showed how Bay Area Reporter’s coverage may pressure politicians to problem-solve issues experienced by readership, Yamashita said.

“Nobody’s going to cover our communities like we do,” Yamashita said. “Nobody’s going to understand the issues or the struggles or the challenges that we have unique to our communities, and nobody else cares if you ask those questions.”

The San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper has been asking questions since 1976. With coverage on the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhoods and the national Black community, it’s paid special attention to how the pandemic is affecting prison populations due to their congregate settings.

Malik Washington, who took the lead as the newspaper’s top editor last September, said maintaining it has been rough as the onset of digital media comes to the forefront. In addition to looking at a digital newsletter, he’s been collaborating with the Mission’s neighborhood newspaper El Tecolote to develop a black-brown media consortium.

He hopes to team up with the other editors and seek creative solutions in a rocky time.

“A finger is easy to break, but a fist is hard to crush,” Washington said. “We are much stronger and actually maintaining our newspapers if we work together [as] a multicultural, multiracial coalition.”

All the while, he’s building community relations with local coverage, whether of environmental injustice at the former Hunters Point Shipyard or the future of City College of San Francisco’s Bayview center.

“I’m doing my homework,” Washington said. “I’m talking to the students. I’m talking to the faculty.”

Independent outlets are known to build tight community relations through the conversations sparked by their coverage.

It’s the case for San Francisco’s progressive news website 48 Hills, which grew out of the city’s now-defunct 55-year-old alt-weekly newspaper, the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

48 Hills responded to the city’s first shelter-in-place order by inviting readers to share their stories and Venmo accounts on its website, allowing donors to provide direct aid, said Marke Bieschke, publisher as well as arts and culture editor at 48 Hills.

With built-in community trust, the independent press is especially valuable today as residents struggle to follow mandates and seek clear, trustworthy information, he added.

“We’re able to build on 55 years’ worth of reporting from the radical activists and artistic community and continue this thread,” Bieschke said.

The fundraiser will end on Jan. 16, 2021. To learn more or make a donation, visit www.savesfnews.com.

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