To the outside observer, my neighbor Sasha probably looks like a homeless drug addict.
On the surface, that's true. He's the first to admit it.
For residents on our block, Sasha is also the one who takes out our garbage each week, rakes leaves, trims plants, cleans litter off the sidewalk and brings news of neighborhood goings-on.
In short, skimming the surface with Sasha means missing his essence.
I've been thinking a lot about outside observers since a fatal shooting Feb. 1 at Oakland's usually festive First Friday gallery walk, known as the Art Murmur. The homicide sparked another round of coverage depicting Oakland as a hub of violence.
Even before that, violence was so inextricably linked with Oakland that two local news leaders and I discussed potential projects investigating such aggression.
Let's be clear. There's no doubt that Oakland has a violence problem when, after a recent slaying, civil rights leader Lateefah Simon was moved to write on her Facebook page: "My heart aches for Oakland -- stings for the mother of this child and for each child that dies on cold concrete, far away from the arms of people who love them."
That's not, however, the entire story of this city.
Oakland is also home to passionate people, like Simon, who dedicate their lives to mitigating violence and helping young people find their way. To ignore these facts seems to violate the very tenets of the journalism
In "The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect," Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel state nine core principles of journalism. The first, "Journalism's First Obligation Is to the Truth," begins, "Democracy depends on citizens having reliable, accurate facts put in a meaningful context."
So a distorted account focusing solely on one aspect of a city to near exclusion of everything else seems a journalistic failure.
By not discussing the violence in the context of a city with a strong middle and upper class, vibrant neighborhoods and a thriving food scene, news organizations risk giving outsiders the inaccurate impression that residents spend days and nights living in fear of having to dodge bullets.
For residents, seeing the reality of daily life distorted can further fray bonds with news organizations.
In a seeming nod to the totality of Oakland, some coverage echoes the sentiments of local developer Phil Tagami when he spoke of two Oaklands in a recent live chat hosted by the Oakland Tribune.
However, the notion of a bifurcated city in which half of the population lives in upscale bliss while the rest is mired in misery is also inaccurate. Oakland may be a city of varying opportunities and experiences, but it is one city. To cover it otherwise is as misleading as looking at the violence as somehow apart from a similar epidemic plaguing the country.
Yet while massacres like the one in Newtown, Conn., trigger coverage questioning the intersection of mental health and gun control, Oakland seems to be presented as a case of bad actors in a troubled city. Are there differences worth examining between violence besetting our cities and that playing out in suburban communities? Absolutely. But covering them as if they bear no connection perpetuates the misconception that we live in isolated, polarized pockets where what happens in one community barely affects another.
Oakland is not the only city burdened by one-dimensional coverage. Residents of Detroit, Baltimore and, increasingly, Chicago also endure fear-provoking coverage.
This type of outside-in coverage violates the core of journalistic values -- what Geneva Overholser, director of the USC Annenberg School of Journalism, refers to as information in the public good meant to serve an informed and engaged public.
By focusing almost exclusively on crime in Oakland, news organizations give audiences only a piece of the picture and risk failing to inform or engage.
In these days of dwindling resources, the public understands that news organizations cannot cover every issue of interest. But it's reasonable for consumers of news to expect that what's covered is factually and contextually accurate.
While accounts of every slaying in Oakland depict what's happening in the city, the coverage barely enlightens readers about the reality of living here.
It's like looking at Sasha and seeing only a problem without realizing that, for his neighbors, many times he's the answer.
Dori Maynard is president of the Maynard Institute and a resident of West Oakland.