You know what also works in a crisis? Journalism.
Coronavirus reminds us of the virtues of a robust news media
I have to admit I experienced a flicker of pride when the Shelter in Place measures were enacted this week. There, on the list of essential workers, next to “police and fire” and “health care workers” was a one-word entry — journalists.
(Of course, it also listed “solid waste collection and removal” workers. But hey, we’re trying to build a mood here.)
There’s lots of talk about how the Coronavirus has reminded us of the virtues of big government. But it also shows that, in time of crisis, news media is essential.
As the Coronavirus changes our lives, I’m guessing you’re doing what we are doing, keeping the TV on news, local and cable. We get a little tired of how often they repeat the same stories, but it still beats a replay of a 2016 NIT playoff game on ESPN.
And we’re scanning the news web sites. We are reading the newsletters. We’re calling out the latest headlines to each other in the next room. “The Dow is under 20,000!”
There are news updates by the second. I’ve never felt so well-informed.
And yes, some of the coverage is silly and obvious. With so much of the news being political, there’s a certain amount of “gotcha” journalism that gets old — on both sides of the political spectrum. (I assume it is on both sides. I don’t think I’ve watched 20 minutes of Fox News in my life.)
But, and here’s the important part, I think the media has done itself proud in this growing catastrophe. I suggest you take a moment and give a nod to your news media outlet of choice.
For starters, reporters are out there, day in and day out. With a world-wide pandemic, that’s no small thing. By going outside and interacting in public, rather than sheltering at home, reporters are knowingly putting themselves at risk for the virus.
But there’s a more mundane point. To be perfectly honest, I used to dread being sent out for a “man on the street” angle. You are expected to chat up local folks for pithy remarks. Quite a few of them do not want to talk to you. And some of them are not very nice about it.
But the street is where the news is.
Take a look at this KTVU report from Amber Lee. Scroll ahead to the 1:30 mark to see the two service employees at John’s Grill, which was recently shut down. The first, a waiter, just bought a house, only to find out his job is gone, at least for now. The other is a father who has a special needs son who requires special medication.
You can run all the numbers and graphs you want, but those two guys, talking about how they are honestly and understandably freaked out, tell the story in real human terms.
I also like it when reporters tell us something we didn’t know. I appreciated this story from the Chronicle’s John King. (OK, he’s a friend. Sue me.)
The media trap is we don’t think beyond the next step. So, story after story showed empty downtown streets and lamented closed businesses in the city core. All right, we get it — people aren’t going downtown because of the virus.
But King went to the neighborhoods and discovered — in a nice surprise — that the local stores and cafes were booming. (This was before Shelter in Place.)
“I see more people out and about in the Outer Sunset,” said Lauren Crabbe, a coffee shop owner. “Downtown, it’s like somebody flipped the switch and the power went off.”
And, once you read the story, it makes sense. People are staying home. When they venture out, they go to local spots.
While some actual reporting is taking place, the media and Donald Trump remain an ongoing melodrama. Trump says something outrageous and a panel of MSNBC pundits are shocked and dismayed. Which they should be. If this wasn’t so serious, Trump would be a laughing stock.
But more and more when I hear Trump’s monotone droning on CNN, I leave the room. What’s the point of listening to him? Former Vermont Gov. and presidential candidate Howard Dean said the other day that Trump is “irrelevant . . . a bystander” in all this. It’s a term that has been repeated since.
You have to admit the real action has been taken by the state governors and city mayors. Sports leagues have made their own choices about their multi-billion dollar seasons, apparently with zero input from Trump.
School districts have closed and cities have shuttered restaurants and bars on their own. None of those efforts were led by Trump.
We have to cover him, of course. But more and more it sounds like a comedy act. The regular reporters have taken to setting him up for some Trumpy punch lines. When a media member asked him, on a scale of one to ten, how he would grade his response to the virus, was there anyone in the world that doubted what he would say?
Even Trump seemed to pause for a moment, like do we really have to go through this charade? But he did it.
“Ten,” he said.
That’s what you get. Granted, the media should be there to record it. And when Trump says he takes “no responsibility,” it is important to make that part of the record.
But luckily, while this presidential sideshow is taking place, something more significant is taking place in this time of national crisis.
It’s called journalism.
Sports are silly, irrelevant and non-essential. Also incredibly important now
This is a great time to be a stiff-necked prude.
“People are dying!” they say. “This is a pandemic! And you want to talk about games and sports?
Well, as a matter of fact, yes. The Coronavirus is a terrible global catastrophe. We can only hope to get this health menace under control.
But there’s another part to this. That if Coronavirus was stopped right now, this minute, the economic damage will have been done. Cruise companies and airlines are in financial free fall. This report says international airlines will literally go bankrupt by May if there isn’t an extensive bailout.
And like it or not, sports is a huge part of the economic picture. As I said in last Sunday's column in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, the loss of revenue from cancelling games — and even seasons — runs to the billions of dollars.
We can talk about any of the professional leagues, but surely the NBA is most anxious to try to return to the court. In normal times, this is the moment when we all say, the NBA season is too long, but now, finally, we have the playoffs.
The amount of TV time the NBA playoffs use up is staggering. All of the buildup — 16 teams, multiple rounds and each series a best of seven — goes on an on. Imagine the amount of money lost from those commercials. Now multiply in the revenue from the NCAA Tournament, Major League baseball — did you see MLB may not start the season until the Fourth of July? — and the NFL.
It’s significant money, which will definitely impact the economy.
And, from a selfish and narrow view, do you know what would have made these shelter-in-place weeks almost bearable? If the NCAA basketball tournament was on during the day and evening.
Don’t think sports are important? Talk to me in June.
You think you are frustrated with homelessness? You should talk to Jeff Kositsky
There have been times, when I’ve heard someone is taking a job, when I’ve wanted to rush in front of them and say, “Don’t do it.”
I actually tried to get in touch with Stanford basketball coach Mike Montgomery when it was announced that he was in the running to coach the Warriors. That was a bad team and a bad organization — Chris Cohan was still in charge.
I wanted to tell him not to take the job. The college game, particularly Monty’s hard-nosed style, wasn’t going to work in the NBA.
He did it and it never worked. Montgomery was fired after two years.
The last time I felt that way was when Jeff Kositsky, a longtime SF homeless activist, said he was accepting the job as San Francisco’s homeless czar.
“Don’t do it,” I wanted to say. “It’s a lose-lose.”
Kositsky took the job in 2016. And today, to the surprise of few, the Chronicle’s Phil Matier said in a column last week that Kositsky is feeling the heat.
No one disagrees that (unless there is a pandemic) homelessness is the city’s top issue. Matier cites a Chamber of Commerce poll that found 89 percent of city residents polled thought “homelessness and street behavior” have gotten worse.
I can solve this right now. Except for a few Navigation Centers, there is no place for those homeless individuals to go. You can’t tell them to leave the street without an option.
This is a simplification, but the New York City model is the creation of large homeless facilities away from the city center. Those places have their own quality of life problems, but they still create a simple equation:
When someone is found camped on the street in New York they are given a choice. They can go to the large shelter or they can leave and find a place by themselves. But they can’t stay on the street.
San Francisco — let us count the ways — does not want to do that. Therefore there are people camped on the street with no alternative.
If you are Jeff Kositsky, how do you solve that? I don’t think you can.
Thanks for reading. If you’d like to contact me, email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Suggestions and compliments welcomed. Criticism, not so much. Twitter: @cwnevius