Peralta Community College District's Only Student-Run Publication
Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

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Archives

    Everyone is biased

    by ISIS PICCILLO/TOWER STAFF WRITER

    “Journalism can really take you places” Tower Co-Editor Saskia Hatvany won honorable mention for an on-the-spot cartoon competition based on journalist Kevin Fagan’s speech at the 2019 JACC state convention. Fagan likened journalism to a public service and talked about the rollercoaster of experiences he encountered throughout his journalism career, from being held at gunpoint to reviewing ice cream flavors for a story.

    Isis Piccillo won first place for participation in the on-the-spot opinion writing competition at the 2019 JACC State convention. Piccillo wrote about award winning journalist Kevin Fagan’s keynote speech at the event.Seasoned crime, disaster, and homelessness journalist Kevin Fagan makes undeniable impact with his writing.

    Isis Piccillo

    As a journalist at the San Francisco Chronicle, Fagan’s work has shed light on areas that, thanks to his coverage, received help in the forms of desperately needed funds, attention, or services.

    In person, Fagan is earnest and empathetic, obviously guided by a strong moral compass that drives him to cover human-impact stories that can make readers cringe, cry or want to vomit.

    But, sometimes, good intentions aren’t enough.

    As Fagan spun story after story of his times in the field, he spoke of “transvestites,” “midgets” and “crack whores” whom he interviewed as part of his assignments covering homelessness.

    His tone was the one you use when you want to shock or horrify. It’s a tone of pity.

    None of these terms are used anymore. Although they might have been the labels used at the time he wrote those stories, they are now considered to be weighted with the burden of judgment. Of scorn.

    To say these words are outdated is to undersell the impact. I’m a transgender person. My chest tightened when I heard them. I shut down.

    There are plenty who will brush this aside as yet another example of “political correctness” gone wild. But, as journalists, we should know better than anyone else that words have power.

    To use incorrect labels for a subject that you are trying to uplift is to strip them of their power and deny them agency in their own story.

    As my Laney College instructor, Scott Strain, likes to say, “Everyone has biases. And you just have to accept that.” Journalists are human beings, and human beings come shaped by our previous experiences.

    But acknowledging you have a problem is only the first step. It’s not enough to shrug off your biases. Diligent research, as well as taking the time to get to know your subject and truly humanize them, is how we dismantle our biases.

    In response to a student question about violent altercations with interview subjects, Fagan reminds us that “you’re talking to the mental illness, not the person.” He nudges us to focus on their humanity. Fagan has seen a lot, and he knows a lot. He feels a lot, too — you can hear the heaviness in the melancholy of his singing.

    Fagan recalls that he spent several years sleeping in his car in a field. He remembers the shame. He said to reassure your subject that “you’re not going to denigrate them, call them bums. You have to show the humanity.”

    Not all disrespect is purposeful. It’s evident that Fagan harbors no ill will toward his interview subjects as he retells their stories years later. Many people profess to have given up on keeping track of this so-called “politically correct language.” At its core, however, respectfully referring to the people we speak to is part of our job.

    Fagan probably meant embracing technology and the changing media landscape when he said, “if you don’t progress, professionally you’re going to die. You just have to embrace it.”

    In terms of the evolving nature of language, though, he’s still right.

    About the Contributor
    In the fall of 2019, The Laney Tower rebranded as The Citizen and launched a new website. These stories were ported over from the old Laney Tower website, but byline metadata was lost in the port. However, many of these stories credit the authors in the text of the story. Some articles may also suffer from formatting issues. Future archival efforts may fix these issues.  
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