An apology to the VOICES: readers

Hey Sacramento. Dave Kempa here, publisher/founder of VOICES: River City. I need to apologize for a couple of things we published that have hurt folks.

First, over the weekend I ran a satire piece by one of our writers, which included a fake musical lineup for Sacramento’s now-defunct TBD music festival. It was created in the spirit of the Coachella lineup parodies that emerge every year around the time the SoCal super-festival, run by an old bigot, announces its slate of musicians. This was with a local theme, of course.

On the TBD Fest poster, one of the bands listed was “#MeToo and the Kevin Johnsons.”

To my and the author’s understanding, the band name was a swipe at the former Sacramento mayor and the fact that he has, over the years, squirmed out of facing any repercussions for his alleged sexual misconduct, some of which involved minors.

But some readers—particularly some survivors of sexual assault—read the band name and saw it as a jab at the #MeToo movement. They were surprised and hurt that an outlet that claimed to give a platform to folks speaking truth to power would punch down at victims of sexual assault and harassment.

Parody can be powerful, and it can be an amazing catalyst for change. But when a parodic bit handling an issue as painful as women speaking up about rape and sexual assault/harassment comes out, the publisher better make damn sure that it’s handled with care, and that it’s clear to the audience what the author is saying.

I failed here, and I’m sorry that people were hurt by this. I’ve got friends fighting this battle publicly in the Capitol, and people I love who have been victims and never got justice. The thought that something I published might have struck victims as the butt of a joke just makes me sick. I’m so sorry.

Second, a local rapper recently posed a public question about folks viewing him as a white man and a signifier of gentrification. He included in his post a screenshot of a VOICES: piece from October that I’d edited, which conveyed him as such. He later mentioned that his roots are Latino and Native American.

Before publishing that piece, I reached out to the artist to get verification on his background. When I didn’t hear back after a few days, I made the incorrect decision of publishing the piece as-written. It turned out he never saw my message until this week—about four months later.

This was a mistake on my end. And watching the pain he’s going through truly hurts me. We’re acquaintances, and I hope he knows that I would never have done this on purpose. Again, I apologize.

Both of these are on me.

Two things strike me about all of this:

  1. That reciprocated trust with the community is vital to a successful news operation. Part of that dynamic involves the understanding that the outlet will acknowledge when they get the facts wrong, and will apologize when it’s warranted. I hope you know that we’re serious about getting it right at VOICES: River City, and that we won’t hesitate to take our licks when we fuck up.
  2. This is a learning experience at V:RC. I knew we’d get something wrong sooner or later. The fact that these two things landed on the same week is particularly painful, but it’s a great chance to learn. Thankfully, there are more editors’ eyes on the pieces published at VOICES: today than ever before. We’re drastically less likely to slip up now than when I was editing alone months ago (though that doesn’t mean we won’t).

I hope you view this moment as growing pains for V:RC. We’re less than a year old, and we’re effectively run on a volunteer basis. Give us a chance to grow and to continue to serve the Sacramento region the way we’ve wanted—to give a voice to people who need it, who’d likely never end up on the Op-Ed section of the Bee, but nevertheless have important things to say.



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Dave Kempa
Editor at VOICES: River City
Dave Kempa is the founder and editor of VOICES: River City.