Chronicle hits Burning Man…badly

Pub date August 19, 2007
SectionSF Blog

By Steven T. Jones
The San Francisco Chronicle leads the Sunday paper with a hit piece on Burning Man, wrapping several disparate points under the implied thesis that there is financial corruption in the organization. But the journalism and logic employed by writer Justin Berton and his editor is so bad and misleading that it says more about the Chronicle than Burning Man.
The most egregious example is the pull quote that leads the full-page jump: “This is not a financially healthy organization. If I were a donor, I’d think long and hard before I sent money their way,” Sandra Muniutti, Charity Navigator analyst.
It sounds as if she’s talking about Black Rock City LLC, which stages the event, rather than the event’s nonprofit wing, Black Rock Arts Foundation, which she analyzed. (Full disclosure: my girlfriend Alix Rosenthal is on the BRAF advisory board, although most of my knowledge on this issue comes from years of reporting work I did for the Guardian and my own attendance at Burning Man).
It’s classic bait-and-switch journalism, conflating two organizations to make a point. It’s also bad journalism because it lacks context on why BRAF gave just 27 percent of their revenue to artists. Here’s the context: most of BRAF’s work has been to place artwork that already been built — in most cases with art grants from BRC — around San Francisco, a task at which BRAF has been more successful in recent years than any group in town.
But the Chronicle, by dishonest implication, would have you believe just the opposite is true.