Journalism loves nothing more than a crisis. Wars, natural disasters, pandemics – the stories of calamities are endless and must be told.
Political crises are no less irresistible, even if not all are equal when it comes to imports. In the case of yesterday’s recall election, media fervor was matched only by what was at stake for California residents. From climate change to homelessness to the COVID-19 pandemic, the election was a clear referendum on policy choices with life and death consequences.
Newsom’s hard-fought victory leaves pressing questions in its wake, and not just about the perversion of democracy that might have uplifted a candidate who won millions less than the incumbent governor. At the top of the list is whether the media, finally, will turn their gaze to the seething inequality that underlies this former Golden State.
Newsom’s hard-fought victory leaves pressing questions in its wake. At the top of the list is whether the media, finally, will turn their gaze to the seething inequality that underlies this former Golden State.
LA Times columnist Steve Lopez got it right when he wrote last weekend: All of these woes were virtually ignored before and during the campaign. A staggering level of income inequality has affected nearly every aspect of life from cradle to grave, making California home to both the largest economy in the United States and the highest rate of poverty. of the country when the cost of living is taken into account.
Lopez knows as well as anyone that the press is drawn to the chaos embodied by the recall. But what about a slow-motion cataclysm? Can journalists muster the stamina and creativity to capture a drama that unfolds like the constant erosion of a house’s foundation, often invisibly, with little to signal the ongoing tectonic change?
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The answer is a resounding yes, and the aspiration to shed light on California’s staggering inequality has everything to do with the founding of Capital & Main 10 years ago. Although the country was still emerging from the worst economic upheaval since the Great Depression, the near disappearance of the world’s most powerful financial market was only a distant memory. And while the devastation resulting from this existential threat to capitalism, and decades of less dramatic setbacks from the American Dream, was widespread, the suffering was for the most part silent – certainly not the makings of cable newspaper headlines or exclusives. on the first page.
Our challenge was formidable: how to bring to life the sometimes banal, but always consequent reality of economic pain. Could we tell a compelling story about a phenomenon that lacked the visceral urgency that most of us seek in our news consumption?
We believe we have been most successful in our quest to produce compelling journalism about the pervasive presence of economic inequality. But, 10 years after the start of this project, one thing is indisputably clear: we ignore economic inequalities at our peril.
The effort to recall Newsom may have its roots in the far-right politics of Trumpism, but it has been fueled to a large extent by the Dickensian scenes currently unfolding across California. The legions of homeless people who occupy public spaces are just the most obvious manifestation of the extreme inequality in a state with many more billionaires than any other in the country. Critical healthcare, restaurant, transit and agricultural workers falling ill and dying during the pandemic, while others were earning comfortable lives without ever leaving their homes, offer another stark reminder of the brutal divide that defines life in the world’s fifth largest economy.
As we enter our second decade at Capital & Main, we hope to play a catalytic role in spurring more media coverage of the inequalities brewing in California.
Newsom, of course, is hardly responsible for the chasm between the rich and everyone else. Nearly 50 years of massive pay disparities are the main culprit, and Newsom, to his credit, has most often sided with those trying to close the gap.
But in a time of radical economic imbalances, incrementalism has become the enemy of real progress. Decades of growing inequality have fueled a growing civic desperation for solutions bold enough to tackle the enormous problems we now face.
It is the responsibility of journalists to report relentlessly on the economic polarization of this moment. Together with climate change, this is the biggest story of the beginning of the 21st century and must be at the center of the daily news cycle. The entry points are endless – gentrification, odd-job economy, racial wealth gap, gender disparities, social determinants of health, digital redlining. All offer rich material for investigative and narrative reporting as well as solution-oriented journalism.
As we enter our second decade at Capital & Main, we hope to play a catalytic role in spurring more media coverage of the inequalities brewing in California. This fall, we’ll be launching a column on health, wealth, and race, and in 2022, we’ll be launching a second column on workers, jobs, and the California economy. These features will complement our continued national coverage of income inequality and our expanded climate change reports, including a future series on job quality in the rapidly growing clean energy economy.
The challenges facing a divided and unequal California and country are immense. Journalism must respond to the present moment by elevating inequality to its rightful place as one of the main stories of our time.
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