Joe Eskenazi, Mission Local’s managing editor, won top honors as Journalist of the Year, the Society of Professional Journalists of Northern California announced Tuesday.
“I cannot think of another journalist who writes as consistently, cogently and beautifully about any city as Joe Eskenazi writes about San Francisco,” I wrote in my nomination letter. That remains the case.
Joe’s pace and the quality of his work is astounding, the letter went on to say. He’s often the first journalist to pick up a scoop, to see a news event through a slightly different lens or to call foul when no one else bothers. And, inevitably, he also makes us laugh.
The articles cited in my nomination letter included Joe’s series on last election’s Prop. C, a major homelessness measure, which started with his Oct. 8, 2018 column, Mayor London Breed’s huge political fumble on Prop. C. In it, Joe wrote that, had the mayor opted to support the measure, it “could have been a career-defining thunderclap of a political move by Mayor Breed”; instead, the decision to oppose it reinforced rather than “destroyed the narrative that she, first and foremost, serves the interests of this city’s establishment players.” That put him way ahead of the pack and he stayed out front.
My favorite scoop of that series was Joe’s piece breaking the story of how Marc Benioff had been swayed to support the initiative by a local bookstore owner through a private Twitter exchange He wrote his story on Oct. 12, 2018. The Chronicle caught up on Nov. 7.
Joe’s deadline writing is exemplary. When Jeff Adachi died suddenly, he wrote the most complete obituary that evening. Here is just one small bit from it:
To watch Jeff Adachi in court was akin to seeing Barry Bonds, in his prime, dig in on a 3-1 count with runners on. Adachi was aggressive. He was a showman. He was a man who, for all the world, seemed to be put on this earth to do what he was doing.
It is hard to overstate the number of lives he touched here in San Francisco.
And Joe did not stop there, but followed to the end, the SFPD’s tawdry shenanigans attacking Adachi’s character.
He is an incredibly resourceful reporter, finding multiple Chinese speakers to expose Josephine Zhao’s transphobic WeChat conversations that ended her run for the Board of Education.
Joe wrote powerfully in various instances about the complications that arise in the Mission District when anti-gentrification forces appear wrong-headed. His January column on Manny’s at 16th and Valencia and the protesters outside was one of the most widely read pieces on the site.
Point by point, Joe went through the accusations and what was actually happening. In the end, he concludes, “Yekutiel’s belief in the Jewish State’s right to exist is, it seems, the only accurate allegation made against him.”
And in prose that was fun to read, Joe explained in a May the complications of the gig economy through the lens of Mission Pie.
At times, readers can feel Joe’s blood boiling, as was clear in a recent piece, “Day’von Hann is just the latest black child robbed of his life — and then robbed of his youth or even the perception of innocence,” a column that excoriated readers who questioned why the 15-year-old who died on the Mission’s streets was referred to as a “child.”
I met Joe, who is now 43 or “neither young nor old” he says, for the first time in the summer of 2018, when he had recently left San Francisco Magazine, but I have followed his career closely since starting Mission Local in the fall of 2008.
At that time, he had already been working for SF Weekly as a staff writer for a year and it seemed that every time I went to its website, Joe had another story up. The dizzying pace at which he filed work – annoying as the editor of another site – prompted me, in 2010, to send out yet another link under his byline with this observation: “From Joe does-he-ever-sleep Eskenazi at SF Weekly.”
His answer, years later: “Only when necessary.”
Joe lives in the Excelsior with his wife, Alexia, and three young kids. He became our managing editor in the summer of 2018, and has invigorated the site and served as a mentor for the younger journalists here. He’s generous with sources, always encouraging, and simply the best model any reporter could ask to work with, as he is either out meeting with a source or on the phone. In fact, no one better exemplifies the need to “work the phones.” As I write this story, Joe sits in front of me typing away as he grills a source on yet another story.