Berkeleyside hires 2 new journalists; Natalie Orenstein to join new Oakland newsroom

Berkeleyside reporter Orenstein joining the Oakland newsroom brings the total number of staff there to seven.

Berkeleyside has hired two new journalists, one for our Oakland team ahead of the June 22 launch of our independent Oakland news site, and one for Berkeleyside. At the same time, Natalie Orenstein, who has worked as a staff reporter for Berkeleyside for three years, is to join the Oakland newsroom.

Natalie Orenstein will join the Oakland newsroom as its housing and homelessness reporter June 4. Orenstein joined Berkeleyside’s staff in early 2017 — although she had been a regular contributor since 2012 when she started working with us as an intern. Her principal beat was schools, but she’s done extensive coverage in many others areas, including homelessness, city politics and breaking news. Her much-lauded 2018 three-part series Beyond the Buses explored the legacy of Berkeley’s historic voluntary school integration, earning her the Society of Professional Journalists NorCal’s long-form storytelling award and a finalist position in the Education Writers Association 2018 National Awards for Education Reporting.

“I am so thankful that the wonderful Berkeley community has trusted me to tell its stories all these years, and I’m glad to not be going too far,” said Orenstein.

“Having grown in up a changing East Bay, I know that housing and homelessness are the issues that touch everybody and everything here,” she said. “The coronavirus crisis has created a new population of housing-insecure residents and brought up big questions about the future of the housing market and landscape. I will work to help people in Oakland navigate precarious new circumstances, highlight the work already happening on the ground, and hold authorities accountable as the city resumes its operations.”

Also joining the Oakland newsroom, on June 1 as arts and community reporter, is Azucena Rasilla. Rasilla is an East Oakland native and a longtime reporter on Oakland arts, culture and community. As an independent local journalist, she has reported for KQED Arts, The Bold Italic, Zora and Bold Latina. She was a writer and social media editor for the East Bay Express, helping readers navigate Oakland’s rich artistic and creatives landscapes through a wide range of innovative digital approaches. A bilingual journalist, she has been covering the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on Spanish-speaking communities in Oakland as part of Berkeleyside’s rapid-response joint newsroom. A recent story, in English and Spanish, looked at how Fruitvale merchants are coping with the crisis.

“Nothing brings me greater joy as a journalist than the opportunity to tell the stories of the ‘shakers and makers’ of Oakland — what they do, how they do it, and how those still rooted in The Town fight every day to preserve not only their homes but the culture that makes Oakland the diverse city it has always been,” said Rasilla. “I am excited to continue telling these stories; there are countless to be documented.”

The staffing moves bring the number of our Oakland staff to seven, as Orenstein and Rasilla join Oakland Editor-in-Chief Tasneem Raja, Managing Editor Jacob Simas, News Editor Darwin BondGraham, educational equity reporter Ashley McBride and immigrant-business reporter Ricky Rodas.

Last but not least, Supriya Yelimeli joined the Berkeleyside team this week as a general assignment reporter. Yelimeli has been contributing reporting to Berkeleyside since 2018, including a 2019 guide to frequently asked recycling questions, a story about an artists’ hub that opened in an old Berkeley grocery store and a guide to eating out in Fremont. Yelimeli grew up in Fremont and has written for outlets across the Bay Area and Southern California, including as a breaking news reporter for Bay City News, a contributor at Mission Local, NBC Los Angeles and the Pacific Coast Business Times. Yelimeli earned her undergraduate degree at UC Santa Barbara where she was Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Nexus.

“I love Berkeley, and I’m so grateful for the chance to learn from its residents and build relationships during this scary, confusing time,” Yelimeli said. “Until we meet in person, I’m just a call, email or message away.”

(Featured photo: Joe Parks.)

Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside. Email: tracey@citysidejournalism.org.