Building Community Through Local Journalism

The Oaklandside

About The Oaklandside

We launched The Oaklandside in June 2020 because we believed all Oakland residents deserved access to more in-depth reporting, perspectives and information resources to help them better understand, enjoy, and impact their city. 

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Along with bringing far more daily journalism to Oakland, we respectfully collaborate with others who are already serving local information needs. We’re committed to amplifying crucial voices and perspectives of community members across the city to help build a healthier, more informed Oakland for all.

Our name, The Oaklandside, was chosen through a process of community listening involving a wide and diverse range of Oakland residents involved in the arts, local schools, journalism, local businesses, civic organizations, and more, about 50 participants in all. One participant told us this name suggests that “‘We’re on your side. We’re with you.'” Another said, “It says that this is Oakland’s side of the story.” Thank you to everyone involved for sharing your time and input!

The Oaklandside was 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 has no input or influence on our editorial decisions. 

Our team

Founding values guiding our work

Our values grew out of dozens of in-depth conversations with Oakland residents and community stakeholders about Oakland’s information needs, and the journalistic lenses and approaches that best serve this city.

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 

Photo: CB Smith-Dahl

Since late summer 2019, we asked a wide range of Oaklanders about the journalism they wanted to see in Oakland—and how they might work with us to create it.

Over time, key decisions about the development of our newsroom—from which beats we cover, to what we looked for in our initial hires, to our name—have been based on input we’ve received from community members through in-person conversations, live events and our digital survey.

We are committed to continuing this approach, and developing ongoing avenues through which we can listen and learn from Oakland residents about what they want journalism to do for Oakland, and how well we’re serving their needs.

Building a newsroom that represents and reflects Oakland

We are committed to building and maintaining a newsroom that reflects the diversity and complexity of Oakland. Guided by best practices related to diversity, equity and inclusion, we recruit and support in-house reporters and outside contributors who represent the people and communities of this city.

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 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. 

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 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 is a desire for more local journalism that reflects what they value about their communities and their neighborhoods. We 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 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 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 maintain clear editorial independence. We are alwaysfully transparent about our funding sources, and disclose any potential conflicts or relationships in stories we report that relate to the interests of our funders.

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. Tasneem wrote this letter before the June 2020 launch of The Oaklandside.

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.

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