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Opinion: SN&R: Raising Important Issues and Manipulating Readers

One of the greatest disappointments which exists in the local Sacramento media is not that the mainstream television and newspapers often missing important stories or shying away from controversial stories but that the alternative media sources in the city, specifically the Sacramento News and Review(SN&R), which do report on them finds it necessary not to fully explore the issues they write about, omitting relevant facts, and often also manipulating language to draw the sympathy of the reader. Both practices make a critical reading of the paper over the past few months a great disappointment. The pattern of writing/editing choices makes it intentional “journalistic malpractice” and does a disservice to those it seeks to support.

A review of two specific stories published in the past few weeks serve as examples of this “malpractice”.

The first story is from the December 5th edition of the paper entitled “Desperately Seeking Justice” concerns a Sacramento sex worker[prostitute] who was assaulted by her client and one of his friends(the story’s tag line was: When a Sacramento sex worker is assaulted, the system often treats her like a criminal instead of a victim). The story starts off clearly suggesting that the woman featured in the story was clearly a prostitute and was headed to an appointment to ply that trade. There is no dispute that this fact does not condone what happened to her when she arrived at her destination and the fact that the men who perpetrated the act belong in jail; however, the author of the article does a disservice to the reader by trying to interchange the terms, sex worker and escort, for what the woman’s true profession is and was at the time of the incident—a prostitute. While the issue of whether prostitution should be legal or not is certainly something which can be argued for and against, the fact is that it is currently illegal under California law; the actions of the more generalized sex workers and escorts are for the most part legal. When the author moves on to the question of state compensation for the woman in the article, the author stumbles over the line from manipulative writing to malpractice. While the author is or should be aware of the fact that under current regulations and precedents, victims of crimes who are engaged in illegal activity themselves at the time are not eligible for compensation from the California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board. It is made to seem by the author that it is merely an attempt to further victimize the woman by a heartless bureaucracy. Again, the question of compensation for someone in a case like this may be something the state legislature needs to address. It is not something which can be changed by the fiat of a government agency nor the desires of any normal, caring individual.

The second story is from the December 19th edition entitled “Alarming rate of Sacramento homeless deaths due to preventable—and often violent—causes”. The article discusses a recent report by by the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness and Sacramento Steps Forward which looks at the death rate over the past eleven years among county’s homeless. While the death of any individual is a loss—especially if the result of a violent act, the article and the author fail to put the numbers in any perspective by looking at the total numbers of deaths in the county during the same time—especially those that are the results of violent acts. The numbers are easy to find but, again as was the story in the first example, the author looks to play on the sympathies of the average person instead of providing the full picture.

The sad fact is that while the Sacramento News & Review does a lot of good raising very important issues which should be discussed and addressed by the press but aren’t currently, the publication hurts itself by not being fully inclusive of important details and seeking to manipulate its readers and the general public by the clever use of language. It would do more of a service as a champion of those it purports to care about by being more forthcoming and complete in its stories.

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