The dwindling, setting sun filtered into the conference room of the Pacific Media Workers Guild with a gust strong enough to toss our papers into the air. It was late July and an oversized Chronicle building for the dwindling newsrooms we spoke of in our meetings loomed in the distance through the aging windows.
We were a group of fifteen students forging lasting connections with each other and media professionals under the guidance of an intensely passionate Kat Anderson, who managed the summer program through exhausting promotion, searching and resource-gathering.
Rebecca Rosen Lum, our editor and a Pulitzer-nominated journalist, offered largely positive comments on our work. Above all, her atypical and progressive perspective urged us to question the old models of journalism—when asked how she felt about undercover journalism, she would say that it was warranted when yielding a compelling story.
Carl T. Hall, who still boasted a strong independent spirit in his post-Chronicle days as executive officer of the Pacific Media Worker’s Guild, instilled a righteousness to our entitlement for pay for our journalistic work, starting with a collective bargaining-turned-socialist division of stipends, working with a grant from the Berger-Marks Foundation. He defended the quality of the Chronicle and urged us to read more news, which I later realized promotes effortless story generation and assists in a momentary expertise on a subject.
These professionals and funds fueled our excitement to write. We were being paid to do something that fomented such honor—and we strove to “comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.”
We called ourselves Bay News Rising, and we recognized that there is a new age for news and that we are going to be part of it.
“Average is over”
We met at the conference room of the Guild two times a week. Tuesdays featured guest speakers ranging from a walk to the nearby Public Press office, where we saw the hub of an unusual publishing model that is theoretically losing money for the noble purpose of creating a socially-aware press, to our enthralling first speaker, Luther Jackson. He now works as a workforce development manager for NOVA and specializes in Linkedin and professional networking. Jackson introduced us to the displacement of former Bay Area journalists in the form of an exhaustive study by NOVA while iterating the long-lasting benefits of simple interview and resource techniques.
But among Jackson’s talk, three simple words still cling to every story I write today: “Average is over.” Average can no longer sustain a journalist, which was evident in the study that he presented. It made me consider what facets of my work could falter as average and I set an objective for the remainder of the program: who could I learn from to defeat mediocrity?
I sat with some people I knew and some I didn’t. Though there was distance in experience and background, we all had one thing in common: we hadn’t dealt too much with professionals before, and the objective of creating a newsroom seemed daunting.
The other writers and photographers who I never met before became close to me through our weekly news discussions and repetitious introductions, which never managed to be redundant or identical to a previous self-introduction. Each time a new facet of self emerged from my peers, whether it was a new interest developed from a story they were working on, or a new beat or assignment that their mentor assigned them.
I discovered two new passions—the changing LGBT community that I now write on for Bay Area Reporter and urban planning. I realized that each time I introduced myself, some new facet of my being as a journalist was unearthed. But I was certain to assert that newswriting not only allows me to exhaustively understand my surroundings, but also to understand myself—whether it be my interests, life path, or self-esteem. And each time I reinvented average by comparing my stories with others who were working on same subject.
My lasting mentor is Matthew Bajko, assistant editor for Bay Area Reporter and correspondent for Out QNews. He and I meet on a bi-weekly basis and he critiques stories that I publish with my college newspaper, The Guardsman. He also helps me develop stories for Bay Area Reporter, which is the longest-running weekly gay newspaper in the country, and I have written three paid stories for Bay Area Reporter since ending the summer program.
My experience with Bay News Rising has been fruitful and learning. I have made connections with both professionals and my peers that have transcended my time with the program. It has also served as a preliminary image of the future of journalism—wherein new models, new media sources, and new ideas about the market of journalists will reflect the ideas that we shared at our meetings, and where average can no longer plague this shrinking industry.
I conjure the image of my peers and our program directors blanketed by the comforting glow of the setting sun in that conference room. In the midst of such a pivotal upheaval in an industry plagued by uncertainty and doubt, I felt strangely comforted and guided by our talks and conversation. I have been given so much perspective and opportunity and I hope that Bay News Rising thrives.
Peter Hernandez is currently a student at City College of San Francisco and is the Arts and Culture editor for the Guardsman student newspaper.