The Front Page: San Francisco in focus

Issue 45: What that Atlantic article reveals about reporting on homelessness.

It’s Friday, June 17th.

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Earlier this year, the city of San Francisco reported that the number of people currently experiencing homelessness is the lowest it’s been in recent years. However, if you read Nellie Bowlesrecent article in The Atlantic, you might be led to believe an increase in unhoused citizens has contributed to the city’s alleged downfall.

Centered on the recent recall of San Francisco district attorney Chesa Boudin, Bowles’ column attempts to connect the dots between homelessness, drug use, crime rates, and the recall election. By trying to establish these links (on unfactual grounds), Bowles casts unhoused people not as individuals in need of assistance, but as the lynchpin in the city’s alleged decline. They are simply an obstacle to be removed.

As Patrick Redford writes:

For Bowles, it is as if homelessness is not just something that correlates with crime, but is itself a crime; the issue, as Bowles sees or feels it, is somehow not about housing, but woke permissive attitudes to drug abuse. Also, all of this is the DA’s fault.


When writers like Bowles frame homelessness as a problem in need of fixing, they often do so at the expense of othering the very people they claim to sympathize with. The lives of the unhoused are often framed as simple window dressing for a broader cultural argument meant to titulate their presumed upper-middle class audience. 

This is not to say that journalists should refrain from reporting on unhoused people or the legitimate dangers within those communities. Rather, reporters should prioritize the humanity of the unhoused over the “threat” they may pose to a city’s aesthetic. 

Reporters like the Sacramento Bee’s Theresa Clift have done this by committing to write obituaries for the homeless individuals who have died in the city, and Oaklandside’s Natalie Orenstein emphasizes not only using language that community members prefer, but making sure the final product is accessible (by distributing printed fliers, for example).

The disregard for dignity in Bowles’ article extends beyond her characterization of unhoused San Franciscans. Still, the language and arguments she employs serve to remind journalists that we owe the same decency and nuance to all audience members, not only to the readers who control the dominant narrative.

— Holly Rosewood

A Bit More Media

Q&A: Pablo Calvi — To more effectively connect journalism, revelation of truth, and political action, American journalists should look to the work by journalists and newsrooms outside of the U.S., advises journalism professor and author Pablo Calvi. Read the rest of the conversation between Calvi and Janelle Salanga here.

Minnesota Public Radio — For the past decade, Minnesota Public Radio has been at the center of multiple controversies over mass layoffs, sexual misconduct allegations, and a harmful work environment, especially for women and journalists of color. In an attempt to establish the timeline and the station’s plans for change, Jay Boller spoke with 20 former company employees for Racket.

Loans and leaving journalism — In order to earn a journalism degree, Carrington J. Tatum had to take out more than $90,000 in student loans. Now, that debt is forcing him to leave the industry. Without change, these systems of exploitation prevent Black storytellers from entering newsrooms, he explains. (See also: When student loans and the housing crisis force journalists out of the business)

How Twitter helps young journalists of color — Newsrooms’ strict social media guidelines could be keeping young journalists of color out of the loop. Alex Perry reports how Twitter, despite its shortcomings, is an important networking, knowledge-building tool for young journalists of color. 

Examining Juneteenth — Capital B and Vox are partnering for an editorial initiative “examining the history, significance, and impact of Juneteenth.” Coverage already includes an explanation of the reparations framework and a deep dive into the Juneteenth flag design, with more to come. (Related: Q&A: Capital B)

Replacing local news — Local news needs to serve communities better, argues Sarah Alvarez, editor-in-chief of Outlier Media, in a new Reynolds Journalism Institute column. “Changing our industry would not be so complicated or difficult — we just lack the collective will to be more useful and a compelling vision for the information ecosystems our communities deserve.”

Stay Up To Date 

3 days until … Scalawag’s 3rd Annual Abolition Week. This year, the magazine’s series is “pop justice,” and will include a live event on Thursday, June 23: pop justice Live!: Copaganda from Cocomelon to SVU.

5 days until … SRCCON 2022. OpenNews’ annual, participant-led conference is “for journalists who want to transform their work, their organizations, and their communities.” Ticket prices are tiered with scholarship opportunities for registrants who are underrepresented in journalism and technology.

10 days until … Mental Health and Journalism. The five-week, free online course is designed to teach journalists how to better report on mental health as well as take care of their own mental health.

13 days until … Anti-Hackathon, part of Digital Safety Snacks. The series, hosted by PEN America, the Online News Association, and the International Women’s Media Foundation, offers defensive training against online abuse.

What else should we feature? You tell us. Send an email to

A few more resources

Looking for a job? Here are a few places to look: INN | ONA | | 10 Jobs and a Dog | NABJ | AAJA | NAHJ | NLGJA | @WritersofColor | MEO Jobs | Freelance Journalist Rates | Source Jobs | Opportunities of the Week ($)   

How about a style guide? Trans Journalist Association | Diversity Style Guide | Tribal Nations Media Guide | NABJ Style Guide | Disability Language Style Guide | AAJA Guide to Covering Asian Pacific America | NAHJ Cultural Competence Handbook |  SPJ Race & Gender Hotline | AMEJA Media Resource Guide

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This issue is by Holly Rosewood with editing by Curtis Yee.

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