Occupy Oakland. A school shooting. The federal raid of Oaksterdam. A police chief’s surprising resignation. A stormy first year in office for the new mayor.
The past year has been eventful and memorable for Oakland, and I feel lucky to have been able to cover this city at such an incredible time. Soon after graduating from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism in 2011, I began a one-year fellowship with Oakland North as a reporter and editor. That fellowship recently expired, ending my time with Oakland North, and winding down a year where I really got to know the city where I was born.
And what a year it’s been. As the site fellow, I had freedom to explore pretty much any topic that caught my interest, while also being responsible for any breaking news.
So a profile of one of my favorite bars, Heinold’s First and Last Chance in Jack London Square, led to discussions with my editor, Kara Platoni, on a bar series. For 21 straight weeks thereafter, I went to a different favorite Oakland bar—from the popular places Uptown to old mainstays—and got to know the owner and the place’s history.
When the Occupy Oakland encampment in front of City Hall was raided in the early hours of a cool October morning, I was woken up by a call from Oakland North reporter Amina Waheed, already on the scene. And so began a stellar coverage effort by our fall reporting team of the post-raid Occupy. Later that night, I sat in the newsroom typing frantically with a phone attached to my ear as I fielded calls from our reporters in the field, and strung the information into stories for our site. Thanks to our excellent reporting in the field, we gained more than 1,000 twitter followers that night.
Over the following months, I covered just about every major Occupy event, either as a reporter in the field or as the “rewrite guy” back in the newsroom, taking calls from our reporters trying not to get tear-gassed. Seeing the masses of people marching to shut down the Port of Oakland, the sound of helicopters buzzing overhead, the wide swath of people who participated in the marches are things I will never forget.
During the spring, I came up with the idea of a history series exploring different North Oakland neighborhoods. Along with Oakland North reporters Megan Molteni, Amna Hassan and John C. Osborn, we produced a package of stories for Temescal, Golden Gate and Rockridge. It was fascinating to learn about Italian men fishing from a bridge over Temescal creek in a place that’s now the intersection of 51st and Telegraph. Or that an eccentric businessman wanted to create his own version of a utopia in the Golden Gate. And that a pagan cult in sleepy Rockridge garnered national attention when it was busted by police.
Mostly, though, I found myself going to a lot of late night meetings. I’m really interested in city politics, and had been covering council meetings since I began the job. In the spring, though, I took on the education beat, and started covering school board meetings as well.
Let’s just say that Oakland public meetings are pretty fascinating stuff. The regular cast of characters, the frustration from the public that more than occasionally turns into yelling or outright condemnation to elected officials, the process and how difficult it is to come to an agreement, and the harsh way both councilmembers and school board members occasionally speak to one another all captivated me.
One of my last days with Oakland North was the day BART service to San Francisco was interrupted by a fire at the West Oakland station. After spending the day gathering information for a story by talking to commuters taking any other means of transportation they could to the city, including the ferry, I headed over to the station to take some photos of the workers fixing the track.
As I was standing on the sidewalk taking photos of melted lampposts, I struck up a conversation with three guys, one holding a Chihuahua and a cellphone. Turns out Jorge Salinas lives two blocks away from the station and woke up that morning to the sound of an explosion and took his scared little dog Lala with him to capture a video of fire on his phone. As he was showing me the video, I asked him if we could run it on our site, and he readily agreed. I then rushed back to upload the video as soon as possible, and write up my story about the day’s events.
It was all unexpected and exciting, a fun job while also getting the feeling that I helped provide a service to the people of Oakland. I’ll miss it all dearly.