Gentrification journalism

by Minister of Information JR

Over the last month, gentrification journalism has been a buzz-word in the Bay Area’s media market, especially after the Journalism Innovations Conference that was held at USF two weeks ago.

What is gentrification journalism? And how does it affect the Black and Brown communities of the Bay Area? Simply put, gentrification journalism works right alongside gentrification, land grabbing. It is the public relations team that is put in place to make gentrifiers feel safe while making the native population feel as if they no longer are wanted or have a place in the general area that is targeted.

For those who don’t know the formula on how land is “justifiably” taken, it usually goes like this: An ambitious white politician starts a campaign to clear out the blight, which is a codeword for low income Black and Brown communities, and brings in higher income populations.

In Oakland’s case, the land grabbing gentrification campaign was started publicly by former mayor Jerry Brown, and he called it the 10k plan. He was trying to bring 10,000 higher income, mostly white residents to Oakland, which used to be a chocolate city, run by a Black political machine that he was quoted in the newspaper as saying that he wanted to destroy. This is one of the last stories that journalist Chauncey Bailey was working on before he was murdered.

How was this accomplished? Zoning wise, uptown Oakland was created, along with the ice-skating rink, and Jack London Square was revitalized to make way for the new Oakland residents who wouldn’t dare live in the densely Black and Brown populated flatlands of East and West Oakland. Then the police were – and are – used to terrorize the native flatland residents, trying to create a situation where they want to move.

My elderly grandparents lost their home because the Oakland police accused their children, who did not live in the house, of illegal activity. My grandfather worked his whole life for his East Oakland home, and he passed away two years ago, living in a rented house in Tracy, knowing that he’d been scammed by the city.

Other examples of police terrorism in Oakland have been the unprovoked shooting of unarmed Terrence Mearis, the unprovoked shooting of unarmed 15-year-old Laronte Studesville, the unprovoked shooting of unarmed Gary King, the shooting of unarmed Oscar Grant, the shooting of unarmed Parnell Smith. And these are just some of the people who were shot by police. This list doesn’t include the people the police let their dogs loose on or they badly beat up or they planted drugs or other bogus charges on.

The mainstream media’s job in these instances is to minimize the community’s rage by limiting the coverage and perspectives of these incidents in the news, as well as profiling the community that is targeted to move as out-of-control heathens who deserve to be abused, thus justifying police terrorism. Another tactic that is used often by the media is to simply ignore the incidents of police abuse and to gloss over the day’s news with feel-good feature pieces that make people feel like community-police relations aren’t that bad, even though they are killing and maiming us, the people who live in the flatlands, with impunity.

Now after the highly publicized murders of Chauncey Bailey, Oscar Grant and Lovelle Mixon as well as the Oakland Rebellions, the elite of Oakland and the Oakland Tribune’s spin-doctors realized that the Tribune was losing traction over the minds of Black, Brown and other low income communities in Oakland, especially after the rise of the San Francisco Bay View newspaper, the most widely read Black newspaper in the Bay, and Block Report Radio, which are unarguably two of the most radical voices in the Bay Area media market.

I came to these conclusions after studying how these stories were covered in the traditional mainstream police controlled media and how they were covered on the Block Report and in the SF Bay View. Take into account that all of this activity has taken place since former Oakland mayor Jerry Brown unveiled his 10k plan.

Starting with the murder of journalist Chauncey Bailey, Robert Rosenthal from the Center for Investigative Reporting convened a meeting along with New America Media’s Sandy Close to start the euphemistically named Chauncey Bailey Project, which is a collaborative effort between journalists from different media institutions to investigate this heinous murder. The only problem is that all that they wanted to concentrate on was the Black Muslim Bakery, one of the most visible Black-owned businesses in Oakland, which, a few years back, was operating stores at the Oakland airport and the Coliseum as well as three other locations and a security outfit.

Instead of just targeting those that they believed to be responsible, they targeted the business and shut it down. Would they handle business the same way if Chief Batts, Oakland’s new police chief, were being constantly accused of domestic violence; would they shut down the department or punish him?

Also there is a lot of information that points to direct police involvement in the murder of Chauncey, including a threatening phone call to Bailey made by an Oakland police officer a week before Bailey was murdered and the police ignoring Paul Cobb, publisher of the Oakland Post, the paper where Bailey was the editor. Cobb said immediately after the murder that he believed the Oakland Police Department was involved and the police refused to write that information down. (This can be verified in an audio interview with Cobb on blockreportradio.com.)

Block Report Radio and the SF Bay View reported on all of this, including the refusal of the media to report on these two important aspects of the case. The result was that the Black community began to doubt the true intentions of the euphemistically named Chauncey Bailey Project, otherwise known in the Black community as the Anti-Bakery Project.

When I directly played a part in raising these questions, Robert Rosenthal and reporter Bob Butler, who was at the time president of the Bay Area Black Journalists Association, teamed up to assassinate my character in the Oakland Tribune, because of the fact that I had a relationship with Chauncey Bailey and I have a relationship with Yusuf Bey IV, and I refused to become an informant against Bey for Rosenthal and his Anti-Bakery Project. Then they had a story printed in Stephen Buel’s gentrification propaganda machine, the “Nazi Bay Express,” which some call the East Bay Express, to get back at me for not bowing down.

Fast forward to the murder of Oscar Grant and the Oakland Rebellions. Mainstream media and the gentrification machine were not ready for Oakland’s reaction to the murder of unarmed Oscar Grant, which was recorded on numerous cell phone cameras. As soon as the story broke, the media spin-doctors went to work and the justification for the police murder was put out by mainstream media: “It was an accident. Mehserle was going for his taser and mistakenly pulled out his gun and shot Oscar.”

Block Report Radio and the SF Bay View asked the question, “Why was Mehserle trying to tase a fully restrained unarmed man who was not a threat to anyone?” To this day, the mainstream media doesn’t want to touch this topic, because it will undoubtedly get one of the cops involved, Johannes Mehserle, convicted of murder.

Seven days after the unprovoked police murder of Oscar Grant, downtown Oakland was on fire when the mayor, BART and the police remained silent about the murder. Mainstream media’s spin-doctors went to work talking about how rowdy the “out-of-town protesters” were and all of the damage they caused, most notably burned cars and broken windows.

The Block Report talked about how the rebellions were a very small price to pay for the international attention that was given to police terrorism in Oakland, which has been going on since Black people settled in the Bay Area over a hundred years ago. A lot of the conscious people of Oakland agreed with the Block Report and continued to push for Mehserle to be convicted of murder and the other officers involved to be fired from their jobs, as well as indicted.

Mehserle was indicted for murder and two other officers were fired from their job because of their conduct that night. In addition, the chief of BART police resigned and District Attorney Tom Orloff resigned. The Block Report, the SF Bay View newspaper and IndyBay have been the only media consistently covering the police murder of Oscar Grant and the rebellions that followed. Again, the Tribune, the East Bay Express and the SF Chronicle lost credibility with their coverage of these two connected incidents.

This now brings us to the police murder of Lovelle Mixon, who allegedly killed four police officers before he was murdered in East Oakland, on March 21, 2009. Mainstream media tried to use the incident as a rallying cry for the community to demand more cops to patrol the streets of Oakland, to give the impression to future gentrifiers that the cops are getting ready to repress the unruly natives.

The Block Report responded with its “How Does It Feel When the Rabbit Has the Gun” commentary (headlined “Police 2, Oakland residents 4” in the SF Bay View), which spoke to the sentiments of Oakland’s Black and Brown flatland population. Stephen Buel, co-owner and chief editor of the East Bay Express, was furious and had one of his new writers write a hit piece on me entitled “Agent Provocateur,” which in common use means someone who is the police.

This was done to try to isolate me personally from my constituents. It didn’t work, and as a matter of fact many people in the community came to my aid in one way or another because they knew they were watching a David and Goliath fight, where the Block Report and the SF Bay View were directly engaged in fighting the propaganda spewing from the pens and microphones of mainstream media and their alternative mistresses.

As a result of all of these battles in the community and in the media world, I was given a trumped up charge of arson while I was covering the Oakland Rebellions. After 13 months, and the community supporting me in court, the charge was dismissed due to lack of evidence.

Roughly six months ago, Robert Rosenthal, licking his journalistic wounds, changed tactics. Instead of fighting the Block Report and the SF Bay View head up, he decided to put his energy into a proxy website called Oakland Local, which would be run by Silicon Valley’s Susan Mernit, a former executive at Yahoo and AOL, whom they are trying to market as a “progressive” because they know that her history as a corporate boss would be scrutinized in the left leaning Bay Area “alternative” media market.

Since the corporate executive was reborn a journalist six months ago with the birth of her website, Susan Mernit has positioned herself nationally as a leader in the “hyper-local journalism movement.”

“Hyper-local journalism” was designed by corporations and nonprofit executives to kill off true ethnic media in the Bay, which is made for the communities of color by the communities of color. By utilizing the world wide web and social networking, ethnic media in the Bay, including the Block Report, the SF Bay View and El Tecolote, are regularly read by much wider audiences than they were capable of reaching less than a decade ago.

The expansion of these media outlets is a major problem for the media elite and the economic elite, considering that these are the media venues that flatland communities are using to defend themselves, as in the cases of the police murders of Oscar Grant, Gary King, Idriss Stelley, Gus Rugley and Cammerin Boyd, as well as in the fight against the corporate poisoning of Hunters Point by the Lennar Corp. The stories that have been broadcast and published give credence and soldiers to these campaigns, a power that the Black communities of the Bay Area hadn’t utilized effectively in decades.

Hyper-localism had to be born: a new movement in Bay Area journalism with carefully chosen leaders who the elite would use to topple the independent media that were aiding the people’s struggles. All of a sudden Oakland Local, Oakland Seen, Mission Local and a few others jumped on the Bay Area journalism scene with a vengeance and funding, and they began operating in the exact communities that made up the base of the people’s media organizations. Mission Local moved into the San Francisco’s Mission District, the home of the financially struggling Poor News Network and El Tecolote newspaper, with a $250,000 dollar operating budget, and a firm alliance with the journalism school at UC Berkeley, a university created by the Hearst family to be a training facility for the military and weapons production.

Oakland Seen got a spot on KPFA radio station as a reward from the then management after Aimee Allison, a would be politician turned journalist and the founder of Oakland Seen, tried to help sweep the police beating of KPFA Black broadcaster Nadra Foster under the rug. Her efforts were to no avail because the Block Report had access to the same airwaves during prime time and refused to let the act of terrorism and the criminals involved slither away in silence. Aimee was rewarded with airtime for her pet project by the management personnel who had been responsible for calling the police into the station.

Susan Mernit, the corporate Silicon Valley boss, appeared out of nowhere on the Bay Area’s journalism scene and surfaced as a web strategist for the Center for Investigative Reporting, whose executive director happens to be none other than Robert Rosenthal. More than one reporter affiliated with the Chauncey Baily Project, which Rosenthal heads, believe that this former editor of the SF Chronicle and one of the behind-the-scenes wizards at getting funding in the Bay Area journalistic land of Oz has deep connections to the country’s intelligence community, which may be how the project got access to the phone records of Yusuf Bey IV and wrote stories about them before those records were used as evidence in court.

In conclusion, I wrote this story to shed some light on the role of Bay Area journalism in the gentrification of Oakland and San Francisco, its key players, some key battles and their connections to the birth of hyper-local journalism. What will the impact be on our communities? Time will tell.

I do have to say that it is funny watching other Black journalists in the market sign on to be paid mercenaries, to give validation to these gentrifiers of journalism for a few pieces of silver. Oakland Local at this current time has a number of Black writers, but none of them are native to Oakland; one is from Richmond, Virginia, one is from Alameda, one is a native of San Francisco, and one is from the East Bay Express, where he was the first Black writer to break the color line. These writers and editors don’t represent the views and perspectives of the majority of Oakland’s flatland dwellers. I bring this up, not because we want jobs with the gentrifiers, but to expose that they will not even hire people who may have a perspective that was born in Oakland.

We as a community should never support gentrification journalism or apartheid media. Over the last six months, how many community campaigns have these gentrifying journalistic institutions been involved in? Are they fighting the power or collaborating with the power? If any of them are about community, we can discuss allocating 50 percent of their operating budgets to existing community media to give us the same amount of resources as the hyper-local media.

Block Report Radio, Poor News Network, the SF Bay View newspaper and El Tecolote have a proven track record of supporting the people’s struggles against corporate and government sanctioned abuse. We must demand that all valid journalistic institutions do the same or kick rocks and leave the Bay.

Email POCC Minister of Information JR at blockreportradio@gmail.com and visit www.blockreportradio.com.