DeBolt strengthens local journalism despite industry setbacks

Journalists everyday face an increasingly difficult profession and local journalism while needed more than ever, continues to be sharply affected by readership and disparities within the field.

Despite winning the 2017 Pulitzer prize for breaking news for coverage of the Ghost Ship fire, the East Bay Times were subject to financial cuts in print production immediately after.

East Bay Times reporter David DeBolt said his news organization will soon experience another round of production layoffs and has certainly seen a depressing stretch in terms of how many employees are currently working in EBT’s various newsrooms.

“Of course, there’s been downsizes, they haven’t laid them off yet but (BANG) has announced that they’re moving their chain of newspapers’ copy desk and production desk down to Southern California, which is gonna result in a lot of layoffs,” DeBolt said.

DeBolt is one of the reporters who worked on several of the stories about the Ghost Ship tragedy. The coverage was recognized for journalism’s highest honor, and he and other staffers continue to break stories involving the Oakland Fire Department and its failure to address safety concerns leading up to and after the fire.

DeBolt said the emphasis on storytelling nowadays is placed on people who create content.

If you’re a photographer or writer your job is safer than is on the copy desk for example, even though, DeBolt said they’re the unsung heroes of all the stuff journalists do and save reporters from mistakes continuously.

“Every reporter now does virtually everything, we shoot video, we take pictures, we’ve definitely shifted our focus within the last year, particularly into video. More visual storytelling, so I think that would be the biggest (change) in terms of how we tell stories,” DeBolt said.

DeBolt’s skills as a reporter are evident through his writing and newsgathering ability.

He covers Oakland for the news agency and regularly writes most of the big stories coming out of the East Bay community.

“From the day he arrived, he showed a great deal of initiative, journalistic instincts, (and ability) to pick up good stories,” said Craig Lazzeretti, metro editor for the EBT.

Lazzeretti said DeBolt has been covering Oakland for more than a year and has written a bunch of great stories including the whole saga with the Raiders’ scheduled move to Las Vegas.

“The police sex scandal involving underage minor prostitute Celeste Guap, various issues involving the mayor, Libby Schaaf. So he just has great work instincts and ethic, which really showed on the Ghost Ship coverage,” Lazzeretti said.

 

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East Bay Times reporter David DeBolt speaks to fellow reporter Matthias Gafni in the Oakland Tribune newsroom in Oakland on Monday, April 24, 2017.

 

DeBolt said, “(Local reporting) is essential, people need to know what’s going on in their neighborhood, what’s happening at city hall. It’s not always the most interesting reads, but keeping a check on local municipalities is the primary function of a local newspaper and without the local newspaper, nobody would write about it.”

Journalistic upbringing

Both Lazzeretti and DeBolt went to and graduated from the two of the same journalism programs, San Francisco State and Contra Costa College.

“Two of my major influences growing up were my father who is an adviser at a community college paper so I always kinda hung out there over in San Pablo with his students and lot of them became journalists. I grew up in that environment,” DeBolt said.

DeBolt said his other influence was a youth pastor from his family’s church, was also the sports editor for the local paper in Vacaville. Through him, DeBolt expressed an interest in covering sports and ended up writing for the daily toward the end of high school.

“He was always real inquisitive, asked a lot of questions, bright kid. (He) really worked hard and dedicated himself to be a really solid reporter and that’s where his passion has been,” said Paul DeBolt, Contra Costa College journalism professor and adviser to its publication, The Advocate.

David DeBolt said, “Those two things really got me interested in an early age in becoming a journalist, if I didn’t have to go to college, I wouldn’t have gone to college, if they would’ve let me do that. I just wanted to write as soon as I was out of high school.”

Instead, DeBolt went to CCC where his father teaches and transferred to SF State after serving as editor-in-chief in his third year and became editor of the Xpress publication before graduating college.

Lazzeretti said, “You come out of that program (The Advocate) with a firm (idea) of news reporting.”

Paul DeBolt said, “(David’s) determined, one of his best qualities is he’s very soft-spoken, he’s quiet and patient.”

“In journalism, sometimes, you have to be patient, you have to wait, people are gonna try to outlast you, get you off the story,” Paul DeBolt said.

Divisions within the industry

Aside from the adversarial outlook journalists face, reporters have to contend with learning different ways to tell stories and the low-paying salary behind it.

Former BANG reporter and current legislative aide for Berkeley councilman Kriss Worthington Karina Ioffee said one of the reasons she left journalism was how difficult it was to financially support her family.

“It became more and more difficult to support ourselves and my partner is also a journalist and so one of us had to do something different in order to pay the bills and we have a child.  “Those sorts of things necessitated a career change,” Ioffee said.

Before making the career switch, what drew Ioffee to journalism was storytelling and the potential for change.

“I like telling stories, I like meeting people and I thought I could help the world through journalism by writing about the world’s problems,” Ioffee said.

“Little did I know how naïve that was, I thought that journalism was a great career because it gives you license to ask good questions, find wrongdoing, to be free, roam around and learn a lot about the world,” she also said.

Ioffee worked in the industry for the past 15 years and joined BANG due to the lack of journalism jobs in the Bay Area but noted there still underlying disparities that hurt the profession even more.

“There definitely is a (gender) disparity, I needed to find out to what extent there was a gender disparity in salaries,” said Ioffee.

One example, she said, where a reporter who is skilled and talented, yet less experienced and younger but when he was hired, he started making more money since he is a man.

Other examples of that she said, were between male and female reporters, where many female reporters at BANG had more years of experience but were getting less than inexperienced reporters who were in their twenties.

“I tried to bring that up to the bosses, but they justified it. But there was a law firm looking at that (pay disparity) but because the salary disparity wasn’t that severe, they weren’t going to pursue any litigation,” Ioffee said.

“But it is a problem and also the crime beat is very often men, (they) are given more (assignments) that are recommended (like) high-profile pieces or politics,” said Ioffee. “Whereas, women are assigned to more female-centric or what traditionally the female beat, like education or features.”

DeBolt said, “It’s important for a newsroom to be diverse, not just in race or ethnicity but gender, and all areas.”

Although ethnic diversity remains a common disparity.

“I think our newsroom was pretty white, pretty old, pretty white, so whatever efforts they were making to increase diversity, wasn’t really working,” Ioffee said.

DeBolt said,”The newsroom isn’t the mirror image it should be of the community it serves, the city of Oakland ranks among the most diverse cities in America, you certainly don’t see that, not just in our newsroom but across TV and other newspapers.”

But despite glaring problems such as these, Ioffee and DeBolt both agree journalism is needed more than ever.

“Journalism is vitally important and I encourage any young person to go into it,” Ioffee said.

She said student journalists should definitely to be realistic about what their aspirations are for employment, if they don’t want to leave the Bay Area,  she thinks it could be hard to find good paying jobs.

“So that becomes the question, are you willing toil for pretty low money for the love of journalism or are you gonna go somewhere else,” she said.

 

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East Bay Times reporter David DeBolt works on an assignment in the Oakland Tribune newsroom in Oakland on Monday, April 24, 2017.