The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

May 22, 2009
A state employee talks about negative press

Our blog back last week responded to a user's comment that a colleague who fed The State Worker while we took a vacation had fanned "the fires of anti-labor hatred" with this post on the rising cost of state worker health benefits.

Part of what we said was,

"Should this blog ignore news about the rising costs of state worker benefits? What about state worker fraud and abuse stories? Nepotism? Or stories that put lawmakers or the governor in an unflattering light? Is our obligation to report the news as best we can, or filter it based on who it might offend, inflame or support?"

The next day, Dwain Barefield sent this thoughtful e-mail, challenging us to consider the power of words to shape perception. With his permission, we're sharing it. unedited. Consider it a blog back to our blog back.

Click the link below to read Dwain's e-mail.

Jon,


The first obligation of any journalist and the media should be to report the truth. Journalism, for better or for worse, is the best example of the freedom of individuals and the importance of free thought in a democracy.

On a personal note, the only problem that I have with stories concerning "state workers," is that we all get lumped and classified into the same group "State Worker." The problem with this collective approach as a descriptor is that the average individual state worker is characterized along with the legislature, and legislative staff as well as the administration.

The end result is we get bashed. Rightfully, or wrongly - we get bashed.

Yes, if you looked at the total workforce in economic terms, you could say "state worker benefits have risen ..."

But how about qualifying and quantifying what percentage of costs are attributable to which state worker group, e.g. (the legislature) is far better than just saying "State workers," because some of us see no increase in benefits. Case in point, Karen Bass was going to increase some legislative staffs' salaries; some of which earn in excess of $100K. The average state worker doesn't earn that much and no other state employee group were eligible for such increases. Look around you. I'm not a native Sacramentan but I could identify for you what areas of Sacramento the average state worker is most likely to live and where there children are most likely to go to school.

Yes, there are instances of state worker fraud and abuse, but you have the same thing occurring in the private sector. Fraud and abuse don't discriminate.

The administration and the legislature are elected to govern. That raises the bar, or at least it should. When they seriously screw up, or neglect their duties, then they need to be exposed. Otherwise, the message they get is you are above scrutiny. You are above accountability.

Sadly, the Bee, more than any other Northern California newspaper does more than its share of portraying "State workers" in a negative light. And unfortunately, as a result, those who depend on the Bee's reporting come to view state workers in the same negative light. Perhaps, if the Bee could tone down the negative rhetoric and be more specific about who's doing what instead of using the collective state worker as a label that doesn't distinguish a legislator from a file clerk, we could see some constructive improvement in the way the public perceives us.

On October 14, The Sacramento Bee will temporarily remove commenting from sacbee.com. While we design the upgrade, we encourage you to tell us what you like and don't like about commenting on sacbee.com and other websites. We've heard from hundreds of you already and we're listening. Please continue to add your thoughts and questions here. We also encourage you to write Letters to the Editor on this and other topics.



About The State Worker

Jon Ortiz The Author

Jon Ortiz launched The State Worker blog and a companion column in 2008 to cover state government from the perspective of California government employees. Every day he filters the news through a single question: "What does this mean for state workers?" Join Ortiz for updates and debate on state pay, benefits, pensions, contracts and jobs. Contact him at (916) 321-1043 and at jortiz@sacbee.com.

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