News Analysis


“The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.” -Malcome X 

“All of us who professionally use the mass media are the shapers of society. We can vulgerize that society. We can brutalize it. Or we can help lift it onto a higher level.”    –William Bernbach

News exposure of Slab city has altered considerably since its first coverage in the early 1980’s. As the economic climate of the country shifts, so do American perceptions of squatter towns such as Slab city. In order to comprehensively address this, I first asked questioned, who is reading the news? When analyzing news sources it is imperative to know what demographic is being catered to. What does the way different news sources depict an issue reflect about that news sources readership? I decided to use only nationally printed news sources, because there was very little mention of Slab from an international standpoint. 

Section One: The Big Wigs

With this in mind, I divided the news sources I found into three sections. The first section reflects sources that have the highest readership and distribution rates. The news sources I used were the New York Times, the Los Angeles Time, the Washington Post, the Daily News, the Chicago Tribune, the Houston Chronicle, and CBS news special.  

The New York Times is the newspaper with the  third highest readership in the United States. From the three articles that spoke of Slab City, there were various themes repeated themselves. These themes included 

  • Formation of hierarchical structures
  • Alternative communities with varying egalitarian rule
  • Rural poverty
  • Antiestablishment sentiments
  • Class structures created by poverty
  • Inability to escape institutionalized class stigmas
  • Hollywood perceptions of off-the-grid
  • Glorification of off-the-grid experience


Slab City Journal; For Thousands, a Town of Concrete Slabs Is a Winter Retreat (2001)

 Parked in a Desert, Waiting Out the Winter of Life (2004)

The Most Social Guy Who Ever Wanted to Ditch Society (2008)

Sources Description

The Los Angeles Times is the newspaper with the  fourth highest readership in the United States. From the four articles addressing Slab City, that were used for this analysis, these were the themes extracted:

  • Class Division
  • ‘Snowbirds’ vs year-round slabbers
  • Age and gender division within the community
  • Freedom of the squatter experience
  • Importance of Public Structures (i.e. doctors, clean water)
  • Spirituality of off-the-grid movement
  • Community formation
  • Slab parallels to those who live on-grid
  • On/Off grid community relationships
  • Youth responses/support for SlabAssociation Slab populations with recession


‘Free’ Space is Last Stand of Squatters (1985) 

The Slab City Snowbird (1986) 

Inside Story; Out There; Slab City’s Squatters Share Almost Nothing but a Desire to Live (Rent-Free) and Let Live Out There (1999)

 California; Way off the grid; Refugees from society and the recession gather at Slab City near the Salton Sea (2011)

Los Angeles Times Expose: Slab City(2011)


Further news sources:



Section Two: The Middle Men

 The second section has moderate readership and distribution. Often, this group was more localized towards a particular region of distribution. However, their readership was still high enough that they reflected some overall sway over the greater American mentality of Slab city. The sources I used for this were the Seattle Times, the Milwaukee Sentential, the Orlando sentential, and the Orange County Registrar.

Section 3: The SmallGuys

The third section was composed of very small printed papers and various blogs with minimal readership. Each group painted a varying portrait of Slab city and what it has come to represent.  For this research I used various blogs and online discussion forums.