Reflecting on 2017: What it’s been like to report on San Antonio’s inequality

Each member of Folo Media looks back at 2017.

This article was originally published by the H.E. Butt Foundation’s Folo Media initiative in 2017.

This is our version of a “year in review,” those ubiquitous pieces found on every media outlet this time of year. But ours is a little bit different. It seems strange to recap the year in inequality in San Antonio. First, that article sounds weird to write. Second, Folo Media is not even a year old. We began publishing in April. But we wanted to remember 2017 in some way — specifically, what it’s been like to work at Folo Media given our specific mission of reporting on San Antonio’s inequality.


Getting uncomfortable in my new role

While I’m new to Folo, I’ve actually been reporting on inequity for a while … because I report on education. In America, there is no way to disentangle those topics. Whether or not it’s acknowledged, inequity is built into the education systems of San Antonio and the nation. Moving to Folo, I’m most excited to begin exploring the inequities themselves — the roots, mechanics, and solutions — not just the consequences.

Getting real about these issues, as Folo does, should stir up some discomfort. If I want the reader to open themselves to discomfort, I have to do the same. As I conduct interviews, meet families and encounter people with different experiences than mine, I’ve been trying (and, let’s be honest, mostly failing) to let them unsettle me. While journalism requires a certain dispassion at times, it would be a missed opportunity if I didn’t let inequity’s harshest critics speak to me — me as a parent, homeowner, taxpayer, worshipper and neighbor. I’m trying to listen deeply and reflect on my own contribution to inequitable systems.

Most stories need strong conclusions, “kickers” we call them, but to dwell in the issues takes more patience. It’s less about the kicker, and more about letting yourself get kicked around a little.

Bekah McNeel, education reporter


Setting examples in the year ahead

I visited San Antonio nearly every weekend throughout my childhood as I grew up in a white, affluent community located an hour’s drive from the city. My Mexican mother coordinated these weekly trips as a way to reconnect with a cultural camaraderie we lacked back home. That’s what San Antonio has always been to me: a warm and dynamic community.

Since moving to Austin, to the Rio Grande Valley, and then back again, I’ve learned that inequality exists in all communities regardless of size or ethnic makeup. The issues that San Antonio specifically faces stem from its history, but it’s important to remember that we have the power to keep these out of the city’s future. San Antonio has the potential to set an example for the rest of the country in 2018. This fabric of diverse communities within the city is a source of strength to combat school segregation, poverty and health disparities.

Inequality may seem like a daunting problem, but it’s one that’s entirely possible to solve. As the most recent addition to the Folo team, I’m grateful to join a group of writers and thinkers whose work aims to do just that.

Lynda Gonzalez, photography contributor


Realizing the truth about San Antonio

I guess, being a lifelong San Antonian, I didn’t realize just how economically segregated my city is. I mean, I realize that driving on West Commerce Street and then on Stone Oak Parkway is like being in completely different cities — even though they’re both inside San Antonio’s city limits. I thought, growing up, that’s just the way things are in San Antonio.

I also didn’t realize how we got here — especially how the West Side was left behind while the rest of San Antonio grew. One sobering stat that captures all of the measures that make San Antonio so economically segregated: the Metropolitan Health District puts the life expectancy gap at 20 years between the city’s richest zip code and its poorest.

I’m glad San Antonians, in particular the city leadership, are starting to shed light on what’s been the Alamo City’s elephant in the room for many decades. This is why Folo Media was formed, to help shed this light and to get as many San Antonians as possible to realize that this crisis affects everyone. That’s what we hope to bring to the readers of Folo Media in 2018.

Ben Olivo, managing editor


The most vulnerable San Antonians are the youngest

As a newcomer to San Antonio, I’m impressed by its vibrancy and its potential as the nation’s seventh largest city. I’m also struck by the daunting realities about the welfare of children.

Poverty rates for Latino (32 percent) and black children (32 percent) in San Antonio are nearly three times higher than they are for white or Asian children.

Twenty-six percent of children in Bexar County lack consistent access to adequate food.

In 2011-2012, almost one in three Bexar County students left high school before graduating.

In Bexar County, one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday; almost one-third are not old enough to attend kindergarten.

These are complex and sobering facts. These aren’t opinions. This is data.

The data show us that the most vulnerable children here have staggering obstacles to overcome. We at Folo are committed to reporting these stories with the latest research, data, and facts, forming the backbone of our content while bringing forth the voices and faces of the people in this city who have the most at stake.

Alice Rhee, editorial director, content and partnerships


How environment impacts health

When I started at Folo in February, I thought writing about inequity was fresh and new-agey, like we were breaking a story or joining an exclusive club.

My bubble was quickly burst when I spoke with the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District. The public health sphere has been talking about it for ages!

After all, 80-90 percent of health disparities can be traced to the social, environmental and economic circumstances people exist in — not to their health care.

It shocked the country when a study showed Texas has a worse maternal mortality rate than any developed country. At its heart, this is an equity issue. It’s not really about the quality of health care or access to it. It’s about trauma and stress related to poverty, racism and lack of cultural support in minority communities.

Now that I am significantly more aware of inequity, the complex history it has in our city and the dialogue that occur around it across all corners of the city, I am excited to meet more people who can open my eyes and introduce fresh perspectives. I hope our readers are using Folo’s work to further embed themselves in this topic and expand their own beliefs and knowledge base.

Darcy Sprague, reporting intern


Seeing inequality up close

What was it like covering inequality for six months at Folo Media? It was reassuring. I’m not going to spew out fancy statistics because I’ve witnessed the imbalance in San Antonio, and it’s not a great feeling. I grew up on the West Side, in the 78207 ZIP code, for 15 years, and resided in Alamo Heights for five years. Single parent homes, subpar education, teenage pregnancies and lack of resources is normal in 78207. Most of my family and peers grew up in this area and have suffered from the inequity.

In contrast, I have peers who grew up with two parents, a Northside education, and a guaranteed future. You can take a 10 to 15 minute drive north of the East and West sides and its like you are in a new world. Most people see inequality as poverty and wealth, but it’s more complicated than that. The beauty about working at Folo Media is that we can serve as that bridge for San Antonians to discuss this issue. We all know this city is segregated, but we never think to ask, “Why?” Or care to see where its rooted. The political climate has magnified the issue of inequality, but most credit needs to be given to the communities in San Antonio. They do an exceptional job of communicating to Folo Media, and allow us to tell their stories and report the best way possible.

Jose Arredondo, reporting intern


Lessons learned

What does it mean to cover inequity news? That’s the question that’s been hanging over my head every day in 2017. What stories count? What’s the right editorial mix? How do we remain objective? What “beats” exist within this topic? Inequity touches just about everything, and in 2018 you’ll see stories from Folo Media on business, education, race, faith communities, transportation, and other traditional news beats — even sports. But the more we do this, the more we figure out exactly what it means to tell the stories we need to tell.

One lesson I’ve learned so far: Covering inequity doesn’t mean covering poverty. That’s probably the biggest misnomer about our work that I’ve encountered again and again in 2017. Poverty reporting is vital, but inequity reporting looks through a wider lens. Inequity is not just about communities experiencing poverty; it’s about the relationship between those communities and the other parts of town. The story of inequity in San Antonio — our past, present, and uncertain future — is the story of the relationship between our communities.

That’s another way saying that we’re all caught up in this story, and in the ongoing news of inequity. It touches just about everyone, because it’s about the structure of the place we live, and what that structure makes possible for each of us.

Patton Dodd, editor-in-chief


An introduction to San Antonio

My first week in San Antonio was the build up to Hurricane Harvey. As someone who’d never experienced a hurricane, I was pretty shaken. Luckily, my neighbor opened up and broke down all the basics for me — how to protect windows, what essentials to buy, where to go if anything happened to my home. We turned out unscathed, but in the days that followed I saw San Antonio embrace thousands of Houstonians. I learned quickly that there is a kindness to San Antonians that is etched into the culture, both city-wide and next door.

At Folo Media, I spend a decent portion of my time looking at the data of inequity. I can often go five consecutive hours looking at graphics that detail how much better some people have it than others. Then, in the same day, I can find myself at the bus stop on St. Mary’s Street overhearing a conversation about the Spurs between what appear to be complete strangers. Moments like that helped me stay above water in this difficult field.

After all, it can be draining to zero-in so closely on a topic as searing as inequity. But buried in the topic is an element of sobriety, especially when you’re the new kid in town, like I am.

This year I learned an incredible amount about inequality, especially economic segregation. My hope is that you learned some new things as well, and will join us in 2018 for a full-fledge dive into San Antonio’s inequity, wherever it may lead us.

— Lucas Munson, Venture for America research fellow