Three of the Bay Area’s top media personalities were panelists at an event hosted by the East Bay Women in Business Roundtable to discuss the state of Oakland’s image in the media.
Panel moderator Karen Boyd, Communications Director, City of Oakland, posed questions to the three-member panel concerning how the media decided what news to cover in Oakland, how reporters were assigned to cover it, and ultimately what news was reported.
Speakers were Christin Ayers, general assignment reporter for KPIX Channel 5 News; Joe Garofoli, journalist for the San Francisco Chronicle; and Susan Mernit, CEO of the Center for Media Change.
The consensus of the panelists was that there was good news happening in Oakland but that mainstream media tend to focus attention on what they call “hard” news, which emphasizes crime and conflict.
Ayers punctuated this point when she related her experience in trying to report on a recent $34 million set of grants that was given to Oakland by the San Francisco Foundation on behalf of an anonymous donor.
“The grant story was covered by KPIX online but that particular day, other news took precedence, and I was assigned to a different story, which was disappointing,” she said.
“There are days when I don’t know what the recipe is,”said Ayers.
Panel members agreed that Oakland’s image is being shaped by “absentee media owners” and by the editorial staff in these organizations who do not live in Oakland or have any vested stake in the community.
“The Hearst Corporation, a privately held American-based media conglomerate and owner of the San Francisco Chronicle, is based in New York,” said Joe Garofoli.
“Most of the people on the editorial staff who make the decisions on what news to cover and how to cover the news do not live in Oakland, nor do the reporters who cover and report this news,” he said.
Susan Mernit related a story about a shrine that had been built in her neighborhood that evolved into a central gathering place that uplifted the spirit and good will of that community.
Nothing was reported in the news about this, she said.
Karen Boyd, the City of Oakland’s Communications Director and moderator of the panel, was optimistic about how media coverage is trending. “Oakland is generating tremendous buzz, particularly in the national media. The Warriors winning season and parade, our lively arts scene and explosion of dining options are causing people to look at Oakland in a fresh and positive light. The work ahead remains—how do we tell the important stories of our neighborhoods, where people who have lived here for generations are contributing in important ways to the fabric of Oakland? Those are the stories that need to be told—locally and nationally.”