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Student journalists revive labor reporting

(L-R) Founder and chief executive officer of Red Bay Coffee company Keba Konte, 48 and chief operations officer Kori Chen, 31, stand in front of Garden Coffee Dojo, the company’s roasting lab and production space in Oakland. (Photo by Ekevara Kitpowsong/Bay News Rising 2015)

(L-R) Founder and chief executive officer of Red Bay Coffee company Keba Konte, 48 and chief operations officer Kori Chen, 31, stand in front of Garden Coffee Dojo, the company’s roasting lab and production space in Oakland. (Photo by Ekevara Kitpowsong/Bay News Rising 2015)

Student journalists in the Pacific Media Workers Guild’s Bay News Rising summer program in social justice reporting have unleashed some amazing work.

Erasmo Martinez looked at a hidden population in San Francisco — displaced people forced to live in their vehicles — and also covered an action by newly unionized cab drivers against the runaway Uberization of their industry.

Elisabetta Silvestro offered an appreciation of independent bookstores, which actually appear to be gaining ground despite all the worrisome trends of Amazonian hegemony.

Michaela Payne wrote a piece about an Oakland coffee roastery and its innovative, profit-sharing business model. Patrick Cochran looked at Warriors fever, one of the few sports phenomena that appears to unite sports fans throughout the Bay Area, and he traveled to the far reaches of Contra Costa County to report on the lives of workers who spend three hours a day and more commuting to work.

Other stories to be published soon include a piece by Alex Lamp about the coming gentrification San Francisco’s Bayview neighborhood; a piece by Silvestro about how small farmers are coping with California’s epic drought, and a story on organizing in the so-called “gig economy” by Martinez. Emilia Rosales takes a look at a deal between the US Postal Service and retailer Staples that may take away the jobs of postal workers. And Khaled Sayed, who doubles as a photographer, examines the fallout from attacks on LGBT-themed murals in the Mission District.

Most of these pieces were illustrated by Bay News Rising photographers Ekevara Kitpowsong, and Sayed. Ekey, as her friends call her, also handles the program’s website; Sayed has won awards for his first-person coverage of the Egyptian revolution.

The Bay News Rising program is directed this summer by veteran newsman and Guild Freelancers chair Bill Snyder, who is teamed with former Local President Rebecca Rosen Lum — winner, by the way, of this year’s Guild Service Award — and Administrative Officer Kat Anderson, who founded the program. Bay News Rising seeks to restore some luster and attract new talent to the fading specialty of labor reporting. At the same time, we offer an introduction to the Guild and CWA, in the form of student membership.

Guild Service Award winner Rebecca Rosen Lum, at head of table, teaches journalism students in the Pacific Media Workers Guild program, Bay News Rising. Photo by student Ekevara Kitpowsong 2015.

Guild Service Award winner Rebecca Rosen Lum, at head of table, teaches journalism students in the Pacific Media Workers Guild program, Bay News Rising. Photo by student Ekevara Kitpowsong 2015.

Perhaps most important, students in our program are paid for their work under terms collectively negotiated and agreed during the first class meeting.

Check out the program’s student-designed website, and this short video Local 39521 produced a few years ago.

“I hope everybody in the Guild and CWA takes a look at what students can do if given the chance,” said Carl Hall, the local’s executive officer. “We will never revive the labor movement until we can find ways to work more effectively with students and student journalists.”

Snyder, a veteran of the Contra Costa Times and the Oakland Tribune who has been a full-time freelancer for the past six years, said the summer program focused heavily on writing skills and other journalism fundamentals. Beyond the basics, students learned how to identify and reach sources outside their J-school comfort zone, heard how working journalists cover beats, organize complex stories, and file a freedom of information request. “They learn a lot in school, but our emphasis on hard-hitting, but objective, labor reporting and stories about working people isn’t typically found in other programs,” said Snyder.

The program is costly and labor intensive, Hall noted, but Local 39521 decided to support it in 2015 despite the kind of budget constraints bedeviling all Guild locals. Critical support in past years came from the Berger-Marks Foundation, which issued grants that helped establish the program.

The benefits seem clear to Snyder.

“It strengthens our ties with people new to the business,” he said. “That’s especially important because so many of our existing members are veterans who have either lost their jobs or are moving into semi-retired status. So it’s critical we attract people who will be in the business in coming decades.”

Eight students participated this summer, the fourth year the San Francisco-based Guild local has run the program. The students meet twice a week in the evenings at the union hall. Guest speakers frequently drop in from the Chronicle and other local publications. One night a week is dedicated to discussion of student work and story ideas, all of them geared to working people.

Guild leaders hope the program’s graduates will have an impact many years to come, ideally becoming the next generation of Guild leaders and CWA organizers in their future workplaces. We also hope they will continue doing stories that matter about working people.

“The labor movement and working people are not covered very well by traditional media. We aim to change that,” Snyder said.

 

Pacific Media Workers Guild

Pacific Media Workers Guild

We are the Pacific Media Workers Guild, Local 39521 of The Newspaper Guild-Communications Workers of America. We represent more than 1,200 journalists and other media workers, interpreters, translators, union staffs and freelancers.

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