Oakland newsroom coming spring 2020
The team behind Berkeleyside will launch a nonprofit journalism platform to serve Oakland in late spring 2020. We aim to delve deeply into Oakland’s greatest challenges and opportunities with an equitable approach to local reporting. We’re building this newsroom on a foundation of listening, and we want to hear from you.
How we aim to serve Oakland
We believe all Oakland residents deserve access to more information, tools and resources to better understand and engage with their city. Along with bringing far more daily journalism to Oakland, we aim to respectfully collaborate with others who are committed to serving local information needs, and amplify the voices of community stakeholders across the city to help build a healthier, more informed Oakland for all.
Our new Oakland journalism platform is being launched with initial funding of $1.56 million from the Google News Initiative (GNI). This is the GNI’s third collaboration in its Local Experiments Project, which aims to develop new business, operational and product practices to create sustainable local news business models. Google will have no input or influence on our editorial decisions.
The American Journalism Project (AJP), a new, nonpartisan venture philanthropy organization dedicated to local news, is also providing $1.56 million in funding for business, technology and fundraising capacity, as well as close strategic support, to drive our focus on revenue and sustainability. AJP will have no input or influence on our editorial decisions.
“Building on what we have learned over 10 years at Berkeleyside, we intend to deliver independent, high-quality journalism to foster civic engagement, enrich people’s lives and contribute to a healthy democracy,” says Berkeleyside co-founder Lance Knobel. “Our Oakland news site will provide the accountability journalism and watchdog reporting that is at risk during a time of news cutbacks.”
Update, April 3, 2020: In the face of the coronavirus pandemic, our Oakland reporting team has joined forces with Berkeleyside’s reporters ahead of our launch to cover the impacts of the crisis on Oakland. We feel it’s our duty to mobilize faster than planned to serve our city through this unprecedented emergency. You can find our reporting at Berkeleyside for now, and we are moving ahead with the launch of our standalone news platform as well.
Letter from Editor-in-Chief Tasneem Raja
Tasneem Raja is the editor-in-chief of our new Oakland newsroom. A former Oakland resident, she was most recently the executive editor and co-founder of The Tyler Loop, a nationally recognized nonprofit journalism outlet in East Texas, and a senior editor at NPR’s Code Switch and Mother Jones. While living in the East Bay, she worked on the launch teams of Oakland North and The Bay Citizen. Read more about her work.
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 them 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 more 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.
“Oakland is where I relearned what it means to be a journalist, a daughter of immigrants and an American of color.”
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 Oakland residents about their local 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 about crises and tragedies; they also want more equitable, informed reporting on root causes. They want more 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, learn, and collaborate.
Today, we are taking a major step toward supporting those visions. We are announcing the development of a new nonprofit journalism platform for Oakland, created by the founders of Berkeleyside with initial 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!) journalism platform, I appreciate this opportunity to share with you the founding values 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 lead this newsroom. 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 partly in 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 NPR’s Code Switch team, 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; Broke in Philly, a collaboration between more than a dozen local news outlets on economic mobility in Philadelphia; and Oakland’s own El Tímpano, a two-way journalism platform serving Spanish-speaking residents.
I’ve loved my time in East Texas building a nonprofit local 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, 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 Oakland residents 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, inclusive, service-oriented journalism at the helm.
I am humbled and honored by this opportunity to work with and learn from brilliant people who believe in the power of local journalism in Oakland and beyond, and to lead in the best way I can.
Thank you so much for your time and attention. I know you have many, many more questions. In the coming weeks and months leading up to our spring 2020 launch, we’ll have a lot more to tell you about our job openings, board and leadership, sustainability strategies, reporting plans and more. We’ll also host a series of conversations and events in the new year where you can help us unpack some of the big local issues we aim to focus on as a newsroom.
You can help by sharing with us your insights and ideas about journalism in Oakland, and sign up for our newsletter for updates on our progress and opportunities to get involved. I can’t wait to hear from you.
Sincerely, Tasneem Raja, Editor-in-Chief
Values guiding our work
As we build a new nonprofit journalism platform for Oakland, we wanted to tell you about the founding 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, and will grow and evolve over time. We welcome your feedback on anything that you see, or don’t see, represented below.
Learning and growing through a commitment to 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 this program in the months before we launch, meeting with people across the city to fundamentally inform and guide our approach.
Building a newsroom that represents and reflects Oakland
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 and across America.
Sharing the mic with people and communities across Oakland
We believe that people impacted by the issues we cover are experts of their own experiences. 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 the distribution of fact-based information.
To get started, we’re hosting a monthly series of conversations and events where you can help us unpack some of the big local issues shaping life in Oakland. Sign up for our newsletter at the top of this page to get involved.
Supporting and collaborating with others working for a more informed Oakland
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.
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, reporting on and highlighting the brilliance and value of Oakland’s 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.
A foundation of listening
Cole Goins is a contributing editor for community engagement for our new Oakland newsroom. He is the engagement lead for The New School’s Journalism + Design program and the former director of community engagement at Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting. Learn more about his work.
How do we build a journalism platform that is rooted in, representative of, and responsive to Oakland’s communities? For us, the answer starts with a lot of listening. I’d like to share with you two ways that we’ve started building our community listening process over the past three months, how we plan to continue this work, and how you can share your input right now.
First, we’ve been developing opportunities to collaboratively imagine possibilities for local journalism in Oakland with community anchors who are leading indispensable work in this city, so their expertise and perspectives can help inform our growth from the start.
We’ve had in-depth, sit-down discussions with more than a dozen community stakeholders over the past three months – public health advocates, organizers, city employees, business owners, artists and more – who have generously shared their thoughts and ideas for what they’d like to see from our emerging newsroom.
These conversations have already provided a wealth of insight for our founding team about how journalists can work with local communities to build power through fact-based news and information. We’ve woven some of the core takeaways we’ve heard so far into the foundational values driving our development.
We’ve also forged partnerships exploring creative ways to involve community input and ideas in the planning for our newsroom. We teamed up with artists from the Collective Action Studio, and a group of incredibly talented high school students they’ve been working with this year, to host pop-up printmaking stations asking festival attendees about their information needs at the Life is Living festival in West Oakland and the Día de los Muertos festival in Fruitvale. We also had support at the Día de los Muertos festival from Madeleine Bair and Vanessa Nava of El Tímpano, a two-way news and information platform for Spanish-speaking residents in Oakland.
As part of these events, Jessica Wong, a student at Oakland School for the Arts, created an original poster design that gave festival-goers a chance to create their own “front page” of a local newspaper, sharing their ideas for the headlines and stories they’d like to see in Oakland.
One person wrote that they wanted to know “how the new housing developments are changing the face and characteristics of neighborhoods.” Another wanted stories about the “heroes who reside in my neighborhood.” We heard a need to focus on “the lack of dialogue between Oakland communities,” and “what’s going to happen with the cost to live here.”
Overall, we talked with more than 30 people who shared a range of rich insights about the kind of stories they want to see in and about their communities: coverage of local transportation, police accountability, local wealth inequality, and development projects, and perspectives from people leading grassroots change.
Each conversation we’ve had has given us more insight into the issues that people truly care about in Oakland, what they want from local journalism, and new ideas for more people to connect with. And we’re just getting started.
We’ll continue meeting one-on-one with community leaders to learn about the work they’re doing and the communities they serve. We’ll respectfully seek to participate in and support more ongoing events, like the festivals we attended this fall, to help inform our approach to local news. We’ll also host a series of public conversations that will delve into crucial questions surrounding some of the most pressing issues facing Oakland.
We’re excited to keep the conversations going in the months ahead as we continue our deep listening campaign and share more about what we hear. Sign up for our email newsletter for updates on our progress, and for future events.
We’d also love to hear from you directly, so please take a few minutes to share your ideas and feedback with us via this online survey.
Community listening events
We’ve organized several community conversations to build connections with our neighbors, and get their thoughts on how we can all support a more informed Oakland.
We’ve temporarily pressed “pause” on this series during the coronavirus pandemic, and we look forward to resuming this important work when it is safe to do so. Here’s a rundown of where we’ve spent time so far, and what we’ve learned.
Feb. 23, Fruitvale: What do you want from local news?
On a Sunday afternoon in late February, we met with about 50 community members at the Fruitvale-San Antonio Senior Center to share delicious falafel, hummus, and baklava from Reem’s and to talk about local journalism in Oakland.
Together, we wrestled with big questions about local news and how we could use our collective experiences and expertise to tell stories that matter. We offered the program in both Spanish and English, thanks to José Luis Caicedo, a member of the El Tímpano team, who served as our interpreter throughout the entire event.
Jan. 27, old Oakland: What does “community-centered journalism” look like in Oakland?
A mix of about 70 mediamakers, community leaders, educators, advocates, and more joined us for the first in this series of conversations. Fueled by snacks and drinks from The Lede (yes, the name is a journalism reference) in old Oakland, participants got to know each other and shared their thoughts on how newsrooms like ours can elevate local voices, make government meetings more accessible, and highlight the things that make Oakland special.
Dec. 11, 2019, downtown: Reimagining local journalism in Oakland
For our very first public event, we packed more than 60 people into the cozy Wolfman Books in downtown Oakland for a conversation between Editor-in-Chief Tasneem Raja and journalist Lewis Wallace, who produced a book and podcast, The View From Somewhere, that explores the history of “objectivity” in journalism. Among rows of colorful books and zines lining the walls, Raja and Wallace talked about inventive ways that newsrooms can produce journalism to help people address key issues and injustices in our communities, drawing from attendees’ ideas about how local news could better work for them.
Oaklanders on local news needs
We asked several stakeholders in Oakland about the need for more news and information in Oakland. Here’s what they told us.
“Politically and nationally, there’s a lot of friction between community and media. There’s an opportunity to say we want to reframe that and be more responsive to values of inclusion. It will take a lot of trust-building and doing things differently. There’s a lot of talk from organizations coming in and saying they want to include community voice, but it’s often all talk. We have an opportunity to change that.”
“This is a city in need of probative, insightful and relevant journalism, and a news outlet that sees itself as a part of the community. It needs coverage that is nuanced. It needs journalists who see themselves reflected in the community they cover. It must be diverse. It must be inclusive. Community listening and engagement must be at the center of the strategy to serve the community, not adjacent. “
Emmy-nominated filmmaker based in Oakland
“When you live in a hyper-connected world, you can lose track of the people and stories right in front of you. Local, homegrown, Oakland journalism is needed to keep us committed to showing up for our neighbors and staying accountable to our community in the truest sense of the word.”
Public-service journalism leader and co-founder of StudioToBe
“Oakland has always challenged and negotiated with and for power and self determination, neither of which is possible without clear, consistent and coherent news and information. Whatever future we build for ourselves must include the right to reporting we can trust, produced by people who are of us and for us.”
Former City of Oakland staffer and community advocate
“As a steward of good government, I’m dismayed at the lack of coverage of local government by the press. Oaklanders have long been missing a comprehensive source of localized journalism to provide us with vital information, investigate the challenges we all want more answers about, and ensure greater accountability of public systems and leaders in power.”
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In the past, we’ve talked in our newsletter about local information gaps, other local news projects that inspire us, and what “community-centered journalism” can look like in Oakland.
Now, we also share our latest reporting on the coronavirus crisis’s impacts on our beloved city—and how Oaklanders are mobilizing—as well as valuable work from other local and national outlets.