As a former reporter and longtime media relations guy, I never rush to accuse news organizations of bias. Most reporters, editors and producers really try to get the story right, and most screwups are just that: screwups, not hit jobs. But the San Francisco Chronicle’s recent coverage of Oakland’s voter-approved minimum wage increase has me wondering whether the paper has an agenda.
Two front page stories, both written by reporter Rachel Swan, have gone into great detail about the troubles some industries are having in adjusting to the new wage. On March 13 the paper headlined, “Minimum wage hike hurts Oakland Chinatown,” and today’s headline read, “Oakland wage hike puts child caregivers in a jam.”
To be clear, there’s a legitimate story here. Oakland’s big minimum wage increase, from $9 to $12.25 per hour, has no doubt caused some adjustment pains as businesses and nonprofits spend more on payroll and may not have an immediate increase in revenue to balance it. I have no quarrel with the Chron or any news organization looking into the law’s impact.
But something is missing from both stories.
While both pieces include token responses from Lift Up Oakland, the group that campaigned for the wage increase, neither story contains one word from workers who have actually had their pay increased thanks to the law.
In the articles we hear lots and lots from business owners and nonprofit officials about how they’re struggling to cover the new expenses – fair enough. But what about the restaurant and child care workers now making an additional $3.25 per hour? For someone working a 40 hour week, that’s an additional $130 a week before taxes. For people just scraping by (and if you make minimum wage in the Bay Area, by definition you are just scraping by), this kind of pay raise can be life changing.
Can these workers now afford care for their own children? Can they now occasionally dine in restaurants they formerly couldn’t afford? If the Chron wants to devote dozens of column inches to complaints from those writing the paychecks, shouldn’t there be a word or two from those receiving those checks? Don’t the people the law was designed to benefit get a voice?
What I’m asking for here is nothing special; it’s Journalism 101 stuff. I’m not even bringing up plenty of other issues that could be included. For example, in what parallel universe does it make any sense that we pay the people who take care of our children the bare legal minimum? Is that really the value we place on our kids?
But put that aside for now. The impact on workers whose pay just went up is an obvious, integral part of any story on the minimum wage law’s impact. To leave out such an obvious element one time could just be a slip by a reporter rushing to file a story by deadline, but for it to happen twice in a row in stories on the same subject raises serious questions about the paper’s editorial approach and attitude.