Crises bring time for introspection and growth
By Cecily Hastings
In the past five months, two life-changing events rocked the world. COVID-19 brought serious health challenges and is still taking far too many lives. The virus exposed our vulnerabilities, from hospital capacities to assisted-living safety protocols. Also exposed were the slender margins of our economic system.
Then came the horrendous murder of George Floyd and the mobilization of the Black Lives Matter movement. Millions peacefully protested against racial injustice in our city, state and nation.
These generational events have produced incredible displays of togetherness. The challenges have led many of us to re-examine our personal, business and civic lives.
Our publishing business has been upended. The many small business advertisers who support bringing you Inside Sacramento each month are still reeling from closures. Many are gone forever.
Our publishing model is unique. We don’t have a top-down editorial management structure that defines traditional news organizations. We don’t have reporters and photographers waiting for stories to break.
Instead, our model relies on 100 percent local and original content. The stories you read in Inside “bubble up” from the community. Our freelance writers are independent. A small editorial team, working from home, manages the content.
Our writers are chosen based upon their local expertise and ability to write meaningfully about what they know best. This includes folks who specialize in arts, community and volunteer activities, development and neighborhood planning, transportation, food, gardening and local politics. They typically follow their own leads and develop their own stories. This approach provides a place for local voices and opinions unheard elsewhere.
In an endless news cycle, our approach is different. It might be described as “slow news.” Since we rarely “break” news, our content involves unique stories built over time and presented with insight, analysis and—when appropriate—opinion.
For example, I have received resoundingly positive responses from our focus on Sacramento’s homeless crisis. In May 2019, I wrote a column called “Is Sacramento Dying?” It laid out the utter failure of leaders in Seattle to prevent large numbers of people from living on the streets and wreaking havoc on the city’s neighborhoods. The column drew comparisons between Seattle and our city.
The response was so overwhelming that I vowed to present a different voice on the homeless problem each month until it is solved in Sacramento. (A long-term project for sure!)
Our approach was designed to help local citizens and elected officials better understand the root causes of homelessness—addiction, mental illness and family breakdown. We try to present perspectives not often heard. We want to expose policies that don’t work and even make things worse. COVID-19 has added another layer to the crisis. This month, we feature an article on the process of converting the Hotel Berry into a homeless shelter.
The protests to end racism inspired us to expand our freelance network and introduce new writers. This month, we are announcing a new program to recruit community journalists, especially writers of color who bring knowledge of neighborhoods traditionally overlooked by media. Our effort is modeled on the Oakland and Sacramento Voices programs created by the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education. Look for details inside this edition.
In recent months, Black Lives Matter organizers have advocated the idea of “defunding the police.” Since policing is primarily a local function, we want to provide a diversity of voices on the wisdom or folly of this idea. In researching this issue, I found many African American voices that oppose defunding on the grounds that the absence of police would hurt minority communities. There are many ways to reform and improve police departments. We will examine them in months ahead.
Social media and cable news never stop. Sadly, they often amplify the most angry, strident and politically divisive voices and ideas. Many people have come to rely on politicized commentators to tell them how to think.
This has created a deep political divide in our country, fracturing civil discourse and threatening free speech, cultural tolerance and diversity. A friend recently noted that since we are all individuals with different backgrounds and experiences, our opinions should not be seen as right or wrong—but rather like the multiple facets of a diamond. America’s Founders knew free speech and the exchange of opinions was the best way to test ideas and make policy.
Our community is suffering from a polarizing public health crisis, an equity and social justice crisis and an economic crisis. We want to use Inside Sacramento to encourage our readers to engage in conversation and debate. Progress won’t come from bullying and censorship. Progress requires listening, thinking, debating and trying to find common ground.
Cecily Hastings can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram: @insidesacramento.com.