Journalists are like firemen. They aren’t needed all the time. But when they’re needed, they’re needed fast and you need a lot of them. They have to do a lot of things all at once. And it helps if they know each other too, so they don’t fall all over each other and make a mess.
I think the San Francisco City College closure threat makes it clear what happens when a city gets rid of most of its journalists.
Now, let me say right up front that I am writing from ignorance. I am writing as a non-expert, as just a joe. A guy that lives here. And that’s the point. I shouldn’t have to dig like a journalist. Journalists should dig for me. The news should be all over me. It should be on front pages on buses and on blogs and everywhere. I haven’t been paying attention. I’m like most everybody else. I don’t have time to pay attention to everything. That’s the job of journalists. So when something happens that’s complicated and potentially calamitous, they’re supposed to get on their fire trucks and see what’s happening. They’re supposed to swarm.
The question is simple: Who are all these assholes who are trying to close down City College. Who are they really? You need a bunch of journalists all at once to start interviewing their families and friends and colleagues, and looking at the things they’ve written and where they grew up. Right now. Because what they’re doing is insane. But apparently there aren’t enough journalists around when we need them. I guess if you were to ask the Guardian and the Weekly and the Chronicle and the Examiner they’d say there’s too much to do and not enough people to do it with.
What we need to know is this: How did this set of institutions reach the point where an ostensibly sane, rational process is heading toward a calamitous result?
And how are we to understand this? Are we to understand it, as I initially did, as a trivial bureaucratic fight that will be resolved one way or another without major harm? Still? Are we to understand it as a clash of ideologies? Is it a clash between right wing and left wing? Are there elements of resentment toward San Francisco in it? Is there a business mentality clashing with a liberal arts mentality? Are there elements of racism involved? How does it relate to the overall class divide being experienced in San Francisco? Where is the tech community positioned in this? What are the opinions of our recent arrivals, the technical workers about whom there is so much surface agitation?
What are the local roots of the struggle?
Especially when something crazy is happening in an apparently rational way, journalists have to get to the craziness of it. Most of what’s happening is just reporting. Reporting is boring. It just tells us what happened. We need to understand who the players are and what they have to gain from doing what they’re doing. As in a movie script: What are the stakes? We know what the stakes are for us as a public: We stand to lose City College. But what is the motivation of the players? That’s what we don’t understand.
It’s not just a boring public service thing either. It would be really, really fun to find out who these assholes really are. I hate them already and I don’t even know anything about them. Finding out enough about the players to really hate them is part of the fun.
Where are the education beat reporters for the San Francisco Chronicle? Where is Jill Tucker and where is Nanette Asimov? Is there some other, more important, education story right now that merits their full attention? Is there something we don’t understand about this that makes the threat of losing City College less important than, say, any other story? Is there any other education story that is more important right now, more important to understand in depth? And by the way why are the Chronicle stories walled off to non-paying people?
And what is the SF Examiner doing? Joshua Sabatini, Jessica Kwong and Jonah Owen Lamb have all posted stories over the last month (were they all born in the Year of J Names, by the way?) but none has done the kind of digging that the public needs to see done. They are just reporting on what happens. They aren’t helping us understand what happens.
Here is what we need to know: Who are these crazy people? Who is Barbara Beno, really? Who is Arthur Tyler, really? Who’s side is everyone on?
What’s the story?
This is what happens when you get rid of all the journalists. Stuff burns out of control until it’s too late.