Local business owners rip media portrayals of East Salinas.
Thursday, May 19, 2005
On May 12, Barrera and several other Salinas community and political leaders held a press conference to blast negative media coverage of Salinas as a whole, and more particularly, East Salinas.
The conference, in response to a two-part series on East Salinas aired by Salinas’ Fox News station KCBA last week, was arranged by the Salinas United Business Association (SUBA) “to set the record straight,” according to the organization’s cryptic press release.
That “record,” according to SUBA’s Executive Director Erica Padilla-Chavez, was that the portrayal of East Salinas “was not factual.”
Segment One of The East Side, by KCBA reporter Brian Speciale, exposed the down side to East Salinas: its gang culture, its staggering crime statistics, the housing density and the fact that 24 percent of residents live below the poverty level.
In one of its more damning moments, the report went so far as to say, “Though some would say there’s not much of a life here—that it’s a life barely worth living—it’s their life, and they’d do just about anything for it.”
SUBA president and East Salinas business owner Sal Jimenez says it was painful to watch. But, he says, the first of the two-part series did show a harsh reality.
“I watched that and thought to myself, ‘Wow, yeah, they’re right; we’ve got a lot of issues here on the Eastside, and we’re working every day to fix them.’ It was tough, but it was all true. So I was really looking forward to the next night, the good side of East Salinas.”
But the good side, according to Jimenez, never came.
The second segment of The East Side aired the following night and was sold to viewers as the much-less visible side of East Salinas: its less scary side, its positives, the side most people who live in the area see.
The segment ended with the words “East Salinas” scrawled in graffiti across a fence.
That’s about where video met reality and sent tempers flaring.
“After it was over, I thought, ‘That was the good side?’” Jimenez says. “They don’t see what I see. That was an isolated snapshot of deteriorating streets.”
While Speciale did not answer a request for an interview, Denise Clodjeaux, news director at KCBA and its sister station, KION, did say she believes the two-part series was right on, and portrayed the Salinas that its residents do see.
“I thought that the second part was positive and hopeful, and it was the story of the people who live there, through their eyes,” she says.
While neither Barrera, Padilla-Chavez nor Jimenez liked the portrayal of East Salinas, Clodjeaux insists “Nobody is disputing the facts of the story.”
It’s not a stretch to say that Salinas has always been viewed as the redheaded stepchild of the county: broke, gang-riddled and crime-infested. But Jimenez says that perception of Salinas as a dark, scary, stay-away-from place is not solely the beast of KCBA’s series. He says it’s a long-standing public relations problem perpetuated by local television and print media as a whole.
“We are not that place,” Jimenez says. “And I invite people who don’t know any better, and only know what they see and read, to come talk to any one of us business owners. We can show them what they’re missing.”
He’s talking about the Corner Market, where one can buy the best meat in town on the intersection of Madeira and Alisal streets; the mind-boggling fruit variety sold out of the back of a truck that is always parked on Filice Street at Alisal Street; and the plethora of furniture stores, pawn shops, dog groomers and bread stores that line East Salinas’ business district.
The balance, however, between the harsh statistics and the human-interest stories is a journalistic juggle not particularly novel for Monterey County, and something most news directors and editors struggle with on a daily basis.
Clodjeaux says human-interest stories are more difficult to tell because they are not what viewers want overall. “They tell us they want hard news. They want to know what’s going on in their community in the first 10 minutes, and then they want to go on about their lives.”
For Salinas, oftentimes crime statistics dictate what that hard news is.
In the town of roughly 150,000, on a daily basis, a handful of punk opportunists attempt to hold hostage a city otherwise full of promise and potential. The struggle of people to hold onto a city and not let the thugs win, makes news.
“People assume that journalists cover crime and violence because it sells papers or increases viewership,” says Weekly Editor Eric Johnson. “And that’s not the real reason; that’s not the point.
“When we report on things like what we call the gang war in East Salinas, it’s out of a sense of a journalistic obligation to look hard at the things that need fixing. When you have young people getting shot or shooting each other, it would be unconscionable for the media to ignore that. Should we do a better job of looking for the rays of light in East Salinas? Yes. We should.”
Clodjeaux says KCBA plans to change nothing of either its format or the way it reports the city’s ongoing struggle between good and evil.
“We’ll continue to cover [stories] fairly and accurately,” she says.
Jimenez is taking a wait-and-see approach to what comes next, but says he’s ready to put this particular fight to bed. He says he hopes to see change come, and soon.
“We want to know we’ve been heard. SUBA doesn’t subscribe to the theory that the media is just another member of a gang. The pen, pencil and camera are powerful things. We understand that. But so are the voices of 500 businesses in this East Salinas community.”