Talking to Lydia Chavez about Mission Local can remind even the most jaded journalist why they got into the field in the first place. The founder and executive editor of the grassroots publication, also an industry veteran and recently retired UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism professor, has managed to keep the flame burning so bright for good reporting and its potential to serve a community, that she’s been able to be a guiding light for others. “Everyone has a vice,” she says. “My vice is journalism.”
What it is. Mission Local is “covering the city from the bottom up,” says Chavez. It began as part of an entry-level journalism class at Cal in 2008 — a clever way for journo students to build their clips and get hands-on experience. (“It was the best model we’ve ever had teaching at Berkeley,” she says.) When a new dean arrived at the school in 2014, the year-round funding stopped “for reasons that are unclear to everyone still.” Chavez used her personal savings to turn Mission Local independent from the school. (Told you she was inspiring.) Since then, it has become a trusted voice in the fluctuating Mission District, covering everything from homelessness, a topic they delve into with dignity for the subject; police brutality; city politics; the thriving arts scene and more. Relevant stories are even translated in Spanish — a true attempt to serve the area’s population.
The staff. Chavez is an Albuquerque native who has worked in legacy newsrooms from coast to coast, from the New York Times to the Los Angeles Times. She retired from Berkeley in spring of 2019 after teaching at the school since 1990. She has a full-time paid staff of three to which she humbly credits most of the publication’s success: “The other me,” as Chavez calls him, is Mission Local’s managing editor, Joe Eskenazi — a Bay Area native who has a talent for deep-diving into serious issues with panache and an appropriate amount of humor. In November, Eskenazi was recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists, Northern California, as Journalist of the Year. Reporters Julian Mark and Abe Rodriguez make up the rest of the team.
Inspiration. Chavez has enjoyed a “wonderful career”; Mission Local is her way to pay it forward. “If someone from the neighborhood walked in the door, we would train them,” says Chavez, who has an eagle eye for spotting talent. “We’ve found some fabulous journalists doing that.”
Budget. Here’s the thing, good journalism costs money — it’s not a bumper sticker statement, just the truth. Chavez doesn’t pay herself, and although Mission Local is currently staying afloat with roughly $200,000 per year, it would take more than $300,000 per year to get the resources they need to grow.
How to get involved. Make a check out to San Francisco Public Press and put “Mission Local” in the memo, or donate directly at their website: missionlocal.org. If you have a hot tip, send it to [email protected]