San Francisco Public Press aims to “Hack the Housing Crisis”

By Jacob Caggiano
UPDATE: Read the event summary and Storify page to see what transpired.hack_the_housing_crisis_logo_-_300px

DATE — Friday, June 13, 2014
TIME — 8:30 a.m. – 7 p.m.
LOCATION — The Impact Hub, 901 Mission St., San Francisco
QUESTIONS? — housinghack {at} sfpublicpress {dot} org

News organizations are used to covering hackathons, but how about organizing them as a form of community engagement and solutions journalism? Each edition of the San Francisco Public Press newspaper dives deep into a public policy issue, their team has already spent a lot of time reporting on the issue of affordable housing in the Bay Area for their upcoming Summer edition. This coming Friday, they are upping their involvement by working with numerous partners and sponsors to host “Hack The Housing Crisis

Executive Director and Editor Michael Stoll gave us his thoughts on the active role that journalists can play in solving community challenges while avoiding the realm of “advocacy journalism.”

The idea behind “Hack the Housing Crisis” is to look for solutions that get beyond the usual divides around the most hotly debated issue in San Francisco right now — the lack of affordable housing, and how to get more of it. So much of what passes for civic debate devolves into antagonism and posturing by entrenched political communities, vested interests and defensive government representatives that don’t actually bring any new ideas to the table.

As journalists, we believe that a civic engagement process is the best way to inspire creativity and empowerment of the community. Journalists are often afraid that challenging the audience to generate new ideas ideas can only invite chaos. They also fear that writing about solutions, rather than just documenting the problems, opens them up to accusations of bias.

But it all depends on the approach. We’re not doing advocacy journalism. That’s one reason we’re exploring the reform of rent control, including both expansion and elimination, as solutions for affordability. These two extremes are embraced by different camps, and we want to recognize that both have serious arguments to make. We’re having a great time coming up with solution ideas that are new, specific, creative, simple, achievable and well researched.

The exciting thing is to get the community’s reaction to them before we are finished with the reporting process. The event will employ techniques of design thinking to channel the collective intelligence and experience of the group into generating new ideas. All are equally valid and worth talking about if they can make a serious case that they can help make San Francisco more affordable — a goal I think that everyone who lives here shares.

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