Oakland newsroom coming spring 2020
The team behind Berkeleyside will launch a digital local news site in Oakland newsroom in spring 2020. The Oakland news site will be dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that delves deeply into the city’s institutions and amplifies the voices of community stakeholders across the city in a time of extreme urgency and transformation.
The Bay Area is one of the world’s most economically and culturally vibrant and innovative regions. It’s also a place where a dearth of journalism means local governments, public safety agencies, school systems and other institutions go unexamined. The problem is particularly acute in the East Bay, where 2.5 million people, tens of billions in economic activity, and a prominent social and economic fault-line demands effective civic and enterprise journalism.
Oakland is a complex, diverse and exciting city undergoing significant transformation. All Oaklanders, new and old , deserve in-depth, inclusive, innovative ways to better understand and engage with our city’s greatest opportunities and challenges.
Letter from Editor in Chief: Tasneem Raja
Five years ago, when I was living in Oakland and working as a senior editor at Mother Jones, some neighbors of mine in Temescal were living through the nightmare of eviction. As a number of us on the block tried to help make sense of mountains of paperwork, stop the eviction, and secure safe and decent shelter, I remember feeling profoundly frustrated at the way many journalists—including me—tended to approach crises like the one roiling our block and huge swaths of the city.
I had read gripping, poignant new reports about evictions in Oakland and beyond. They included photographs of stuffed animals in trash bags and children’s clothes kicked to the curb, and heart-wrenching quotes from people who didn’t know where they’d sleep that night.
Such stories can absolutely be worthwhile. But they’re largely assigned, reported, and published with readers like me in mind, people unlikely to experience the trauma firsthand. I wondered what newsrooms could do for and with Oaklanders living through some of the hardest days of their lives, beyond writing stories about them.
I also craved deeper reporting on the systemic causes behind the eviction crisis, and other major forces making life better or worse for Oaklanders. I wanted to know more about people and organizations working for a better Oakland for all, how bad actors were being held accountable, and how harmful systems could be dismantled. I wanted to better understand how I could get involved, without adding to the harm.
I know I’m not the only one who wants to build up—and reimagine—the power of journalism in Oakland. Over the past few months, we’ve been talking with a wide range of Oaklanders about their information needs. They told us they don’t just want to read articles about Oakland; they also want tools and resources that can help them navigate life here, and help them impact local issues. They don’t just want breaking news; they also want honest, equitable reporting on systemic problems. They want opportunities to tell their own stories and shift harmful narratives, and to see the value of their communities reflected in local reporting. They want local journalists to partner with others already doing the work in Oakland, and to be willing to listen and learn.
Today, we are taking a major step toward those visions. We are announcing the development of a new nonprofit journalism platform for Oakland, published by the founders of Berkeleyside with seed funding—and complete editorial independence—from the Google News Initiative and the American Journalism Project. As the Editor-in-Chief of this new (as of yet unnamed!) newsroom, I appreciate this opportunity to share with you the founding values and editorial policies guiding our work, tell you how we’re building everything we do on a foundation of listening, and invite you to get involved.
I also want to tell you a bit about me, and why I’m returning to Oakland to work on this vision. I lived in the East Bay for the better part of a decade, and Oakland is where I relearned what it means to be a journalist, a daughter of immigrants, and an American of color. This happened over the course of many conversations with Oakland organizers, artists, students, and educators about the role and responsibilities of journalism. These often uncomfortable conversations—which I inwardly resisted for a long time, and put up lots of walls against, to be honest—got me looking differently at power and resources in our city and country, and in my own profession. I am endlessly grateful for these encounters, and for how they changed my work.
I left Oakland in 2015 to become the senior editor of the Code Switch team at NPR, launching a hit podcast and working with brilliant journalists of color investigating how race and identity intersect with absolutely everything about the way our country works. Then, family beckoned, and I unexpectedly landed in a deeply diverse, deeply segregated small city in East Texas, where I founded a scrappy nonprofit local journalism startup and experimented with ways to collaborate with the people and communities I aimed to serve, from a storytelling training program to audience-driven reporting to our wildly popular taco tour.
I also learned from groundbreaking journalism “labs” across the country, like the Documenters program from City Bureau in Chicago, which trains and pays community members to cover public meetings, Outlier Media in Detroit, which texts useful, personalized data and information to lower-income news consumers, and Oakland’s own El Tímpano, a two-way journalism platform serving local Latino immigrants.
I’ve loved my time building a people-powered news outlet from scratch, running on fumes and learning a ton about the business of journalism along the way. But when I learned that the co-founders of Berkeleyside, whose work I have long admired, were aiming to bring far more journalism to Oakland, and seeking an editor committed to serving the information needs of all Oaklanders, I pursued the opportunity to bring “home” the lessons I’ve learned over the past few years.
I’m joining this effort because I believe all Oaklanders need and deserve access to more high-quality information, tools, and resources in the face of extreme transformation and vulnerability across this city. I believe a mission-driven newsroom dedicated wholly to helping people who care about Oakland understand and engage with this city’s greatest challenges and opportunities is a crucial missing piece of the puzzle. I believe such a newsroom needs a strong, experienced advocate for equitable, independent, service-oriented journalism at the helm.
I am humbled and honored by this opportunity to learn from and work with brilliant people who believe in the power of local journalism in Oakland and beyond, and to lead the best I can.
To help me get started, I hope you’ll join me tomorrow evening at Wolfman Books. I’m talking with journalist Lewis Raven Wallace about his new book and podcast exploring the myth of journalistic objectivity and the stories of trailblazing journalists whose work openly pushed for human rights and civil rights across America. You can learn more about our conversation, and sign up if you’re interested in hanging out with us, here. If you stop by, I hope we get a chance to meet in person—please say hello!
Thank you so much for your time and attention thus far. I know you have many, many more questions. In the coming weeks and months, we’ll have a lot more to tell you about our job openings, our board and leadership, our sustainability goals, our reporting plans, and more. We’ll also host a series of conversations and events in the new year that will be open invitations for you to help us unpack some of the big local issues we should focus on as a newsroom. Sign up for our newsletter for updates on our progress and opportunities to get involved. In the meantime, you can also share your insights and ideas with us directly here. I can’t wait to hear from you.
Our founding values
Tasneem Raja, Editor in Chief (Oakland), and Cole Goins, Contributing Editor for Community Engagement (Oakland)
As we work to build a new nonprofit journalism platform seeking to contribute to and strengthen Oakland’s information landscape, we’ve laid out an initial set of values guiding our efforts. We will hold these values close as we continue to connect with people across the city to inform our work, develop our internal priorities and processes, and hire staff. This set of values is not exhaustive, but represents some of our foundational operating principles.
We will refine and expand these values in the months before we launch as we continue to learn and grow. We welcome your feedback on anything that you see, or don’t see, represented below. You can get in touch here, and thank you for your time and attention.
Learning and growing through a commitment to deep listening
We will make listening the foundation of our newsroom. Over the past few months, we’ve been asking a wide range of Oaklanders about the journalism they want to see in Oakland—and how they might work with us to create it. We will continue our listening campaign in the months before we launch, meeting with people across the city to fundamentally inform and guide our approach. Our reporting priorities will be decided in conversation with our audience, not just amongst our staff. We will create ongoing practices to gather feedback, direction and ideas from our community.
Building a newsroom that represents and reflects Oakland
In the coming weeks, we will refine and publicly share an intentional, transparent, and open hiring process—guided by best practices related to diversity, equity, and inclusion—to build a newsroom that reflects the people and communities of Oakland. We will announce job openings throughout the first half of 2020, and every new position in this newsroom will be filled through a public search.
We’ll seek out candidates with deep experience serving the information needs of communities, whether or not those candidates have worked in traditional newsrooms. We’re especially interested in working with people who have ties to Oakland, and who have demonstrated understanding of the ways race, racism, identity, and power shape daily life in Oakland or across America.
Sharing the mic with people and communities
We believe that people impacted by the issues we will cover are experts of their own experience. We will constantly look for and create opportunities to share the mic, work with people and communities interested in telling their own stories, and democratize the practice of journalism so that more Oaklanders are able to participate in civic conversation and the distribution of fact-based information.
To get started, we’re hosting a monthly series of conversations and events that will be open invitations for you to help us unpack some of the big local issues we might focus on. Sign up for our newsletter for updates on our progress and opportunities to get involved.
Supporting Oakland’s existing information ecosystems
From established newsrooms to churches to neighborhood elders, we know that Oaklanders already get news and information from a variety of people and places. We’re committed to being a thoughtful, supportive partner in strengthening Oakland’s existing information ecosystems.We will respectfully seek to collaborate with and support other local storytellers, mediamakers and trusted sources of community information.
We will prioritize a healthy budget for compensating freelancers and collaborators, and constantly seek opportunities to support those already doing the work we want to see in Oakland.
Our ultimate goal is a more equitably informed and engaged Oakland, and we know that we can best achieve that vision by sharing resources, time and attention with those who are also committed to these values.
Reflecting the value of Oakland’s communities
One of the common sentiments we’ve heard from residents so far is a desire for more local journalism that reflects what they value about their communities and their neighborhoods. We will seek to bring an “asset mindset” to our coverage of Oakland, reporting on and highlighting the brilliance and value of its people, institutions, and communities, alongside our honest and uncompromising reporting on Oakland’s greatest vulnerabilities.
We will pair our focus on accountability with an eye for possibility, elevating stories of those who are working to make Oakland a healthier, safer place for all.
Protecting our editorial independence
To sustain our newsroom, we will seek funding from a wide variety of sources, from individual readers to large institutions. Regardless of the size and influence of any funder, we will not shy away from beats or people connected to our donors and will maintain clear editorial independence. We will always be fully transparent about our funding sources, and will disclose any potential conflicts or relationships in stories we report that relate to the interests of our funders.
We’re listening: How we are building our Oakland newsroom
We are designing and building our first newsroom after Berkeley in Oakland with a launch in spring 2020. And we’re doing it in partnership with the people of Oakland to create a responsive, inclusive and equitable model for local news. In the months before we launch, we are facilitating a deep listening initiative to connect with people across the city, learn more about the core issues that people care about, the stories we need to elevate, and how we can best serve local information needs.
This process includes interviews with stakeholders across Oakland, conversations with community organizations and neighborhood groups, in churches, libraries and community centers, and collaborations with local artists to develop creative opportunities for our neighbors to share their insights, perspectives and ideas for how an Oakland-focused newsroom could best function to their benefit.
What people are saying
To come: Quotes from “ambassadors.”
We want to hear from you
TELL US WHAT YOU WANT: What information do you need about the place where you live? What do you want others to know about your hometown? Tell us what you’d like to see coming out of our new newsroom.
STAY IN TOUCH: Sign up for latest updates on our forthcoming Oakland news site.