As municipal election campaigns have heated up over the last few weeks, the causes and challenges of poverty in San Antonio have become a hot-button topic. Indeed, while residents in some City Council districts call upon candidates to address growth-related traffic conditions, others cry out for basic services.
A 2012 Pew study and the 2016 Distressed Communities Index showed that the gap in median income between San Antonio’s poorest and richest zip codes is wider than that of any other two metro zip codes in the country.
“What are the consequences of such gaps? Are they bad for everyone, or just a few people? What does the horizon of possibility look like for children living in the poorer parts of San Antonio?”
Those are the questions Patton Dodd and his team of seasoned journalists plan to explore in the coming months with the launch of Folo Media.
Folo Media is a digital publication initiative of The H.E. Butt Family Foundation, one of the oldest foundations in the country. With $295 million in total assets, the foundation is better known for its faith retreat centers in Kerrville, and it is not affiliated with the charitable arm of the H-E-B grocery company.
On its website, Folo Media describes its mission as reporting “on the challenges and opportunities for vulnerable communities in San Antonio, one of the most inequitable cities in the United States.” Dodd said Folo Media will dive deeply into this multifaceted issue and never let up.
“[Folo] is newsroom shorthand for follow-up reporting,” he said. “This is what we do. Inequity and inequality issues are complex and relate to housing and race and religion and many things. All we’re going to do is follow up on this topic. Folo Media describes how we’re going to come back to it. It’s not general news – just issues pertaining to the challenge that vulnerable communities face.”
Dodd has worked as an editor for several national publications and has written for The Wall Street Journal, CNN.com, The Washington Post, Newsweek, Slate, Financial Times, and Christianity Today. With a doctorate in religion and literature, he has taught at the United States Air Force Academy and Boston University.
While serving as a consultant to the The H. E. Butt Family Foundation, Dodd assisted the foundation in using digital media and journalism to drive aspects of its mission.
“Then it became clear that to do the work well, I needed to be in San Antonio, because most of their interest is deeply rooted in this region,” Dodd said of his move from Maryland to San Antonio in 2015. “So to understand the issues and take them on fully, I needed to come here.”
Also on the editorial staff currently are Alice Rhee, a two-time Emmy award-winning television producer and multimedia journalist, and Benjamin Olivo, who wrote about urban planning, historic preservation, and cultural gentrification during his 19 years at the San Antonio Express-News.
Dodd said he and his staff have launched the site quietly for now, but have plans to not only build out the digital publication and the team, but also post more on its social media channels, host public events, and produce a series with Texas Public Radio that is slated to start airing in June.
“What you’re seeing now is us trying to understand the problem,” Dodd said. “Inequality is such a complex issue, there’s so much data and sociological theory, we wanted to learn as much as we could.
“Also, we are spending lot of time in people’s homes, and we want to reach their neighbors, too, whether talking to someone on the Eastside or someone in Stone Oak, we are hoping we can generate a conversation they will both want to be part of. We are framing this as an issue not just for one side, but for all of San Antonio.”
Some of the conversations have been with leaders from groups such as Blueprint Ministries, HIS BridgeBuilders, Catholic Charities, United Way, the San Antonio Food Bank, the Westside Development Corporation, San Antonio for Growth on the Eastside, and the Promise Zone.
The ultimate goal of Folo Media isn’t fully defined yet, but even in its nascent form it is shedding light on topics of vital importance.
“I think that one of the things that happened already is when we’re sitting down with someone, such as a business person or faith leader in San Antonio, and talking to them about some of the data on inequality issues, many are saying, ‘I didn’t know the problem was this severe,’” Dodd said.
“That’s a soft measure of impact, but we definitely need to create an awareness.”