Julian Mark, Senior Reporter
Frankly it can be humbling — at times, intimidating — working alongside two titans of the trade like Lydia Chávez and Joe Eskenazi. Chávez, the former New York Times South America bureau chief and Cal Berkeley professor — and Eskenazi, the racehorse alt-weekly legend. And, holy smokes, did this year bring out the best in both of them.
Exhibit A: Lydia’s momentous clapback at the SF Department of Public Health’s mantra of “following the data and the science.” As her Sep. 18 piece details at length, Health Department decision-makers were taking little action on data that showed disproportionate infection rates in neglected areas of the city, leaving community groups to pick up the slack. And that is only one highlight of coverage that has pressured the city to maybe, finally, start paying attention.
Exhibit B: You won’t read a piece like this anywhere, except under Joe’s byline. The article titled “A supervisor, a guest, and a nurse walk into a COVID-19 hotel …” captured such a bizarre moment in time — in such a bizarre place — from the points of view of three completely different parties: the homeless guest of a covid hotel, the politician who fiercely pushed for its existence and volunteered there, and the nurse who catalogued the chaos of moving thousands homeless people into hotels. When documenting this unprecedented time and policy move, a historian would do well to read Eskenazi’s piece.
Also impressive was Annika Hom’s piece showing the phone lines flooded with undocumented immigrants looking for $500 from the state to keep themselves going in a totally shut-down economy.
And I won’t forget having Madison Alvarado join us this summer as an intern from Duke University. She never turned down an assignment and produced a gem of local housing reporting, revealing that an infamous developer duo are seeking to flip a former board-and-care facility to make a buck. Madison also struck the perfect tone while distilling the sometimes turgid science of UCSF’s Medical Grand Rounds.
Annika Hom, Reporter
I’m the new kid on the block around here, and even six months in, it’s hard not to look around and appreciate what a machine Mission Local has been and continues to be. Since I came on later in the year, I had the extra pleasure of loading up on all of my colleagues’ excellent reporting from prior years to brighten some of the dull days of shelter-in-place. There’s a lot of hard-hitting news coming from such a small newsroom, and I am proud to join it.
Obviously, our readers know how tenacious and witty Joe Eskenazi and Lydia Chávez are, but as Julian said earlier, this year took the cake. I’d be remiss to omit the fact that during this tumultuous time, Chávez has been holding down this entire operation on editorial and business ends and even tacked on a data fellowship. Eskenazi juggles his must-read columns and breaking news scoops, all while caring for his young kids and family at home.
While I’d love to tout Chávez’s testing stories, since everyone else will, I’ll home in on her style and storytelling. A great example is her feature on the Latino Task Force, which she rightly paid attention to as it arose during the pandemic. Features like that require dogged reporting to nail down all the details, and to top it all off, she made it entertaining to read.
My favorites of Eskenazi’s were ones that relied on his deep knowledge of the city to reveal San Francisco happenings that few (if any) other reporters would discover. A few examples are The strange and terrible saga of San Francisco principals being ordered back to empty schools and No good deed goes unpunished: Rooftop principal acts to ensure equity — is blasted by SFUSD union. An honorable mention goes to his column during election season about Prop. 22 for his insight and wit.
Julian Mark is a superstar in his own right, and one of the most hardworking journalists I know. I learned this my first week when his inherent urge to sniff out a story caused him be arrested at the George Floyd protests. My favorites of his this year were his two-part tale on Maurice Caldwell and, of course, the Burger Wars, which always make me laugh — and crave fast-food. It has been awesome to see some of his older work on police resurface and circulate around social media this year, too.
A few other favorites are Juan Carlos Lara’s line stories and Clara Sophia Daly’s People We Meet. Hayden Manseau greatly impressed me with her data skills, using it to put out this piece on how the homeless are testing in the pandemic.
Joe Eskenazi, Managing Editor
For me, the standout of this year has been seeing our founding executive editor Lydia Chávez charging into on-the-ground and in-depth coverage; she told me that dealing with the misinformation and misdirections emanating from San Francisco government and officials during covid times reminded her of her years as a correspondent in El Salvador.
This approach served her well. Then and now.
As such, Mission Local, located in one of the most covid-impacted San Francisco neighborhoods, has produced some of the most comprehensive and critical coverage of the city’s testing and prevention strategies.
Most notably, it has been Chávez who, again and again, has stated that the city’s own mantra of following and the data and the science has been at odds with its testing and prevention strategy here in the Mission — which suffers disproportionately but has, thus far, received a disproportionately low level of resources and outreach.
It was Chávez who pushed hard to nail down just how many tests this city was performing daily (fewer than it indicated it would, incidentally), and just how efficaciously they were being applied (not very, if you believe the most impacted populations should be the city’s major focus).
Finally, it was Chávez who hammered that our city’s response to the pandemic continued to favor the privileged — and, especially when data and facts were in short order, served to be both arbitrary and regressive. In short, our city has — thus far — failed to put its resources where all the data says they should be going.
These kinds of stories, hopefully, can change the city’s approach before Covid-19 is, blessedly, in our rearview mirror. But, even when that day comes, they’ll serve their purpose as the first draft of history, and insurance against future hagiographies.
It also goes without saying that Mission Local was also blessed with Julian Mark’s diligence in not only enduring hours of police- and justice-related meetings and work groups, but piecing together cogent articles and analysis. But I don’t want to damn Mark with faint praise; he also gets out there and does the work (which, during a pandemic, is a lot to ask). In January, he helped expose a Mission building’s monitored camera system in which an attendant harassed people of color (namely Mark) and had no problem with loitering middle-aged white men (e.g. Your Humble Narrator). During the George Floyd protests, he was detained and nearly arrested by police while doing his job.
Finally, in the years to come, I think people are going to wonder what it was like to be a Mission resident during the pandemic. They could do worse than read Annika Hom’s piece about the obstacles placed in the way of undocumented immigrants hoping to claim monetary relief or Juan Carlos Lara’s poignant interviews with families waiting in line for groceries, in which they espouse on life, the universe and everything.
Lydia Chávez, Executive Editor
I told myself I would not repeat any of the most read pieces, but like readers, a few were also my favorites — notably Joe Eskenazi’s piece setting the Atlantic (and the historical record) straight on how the city’s March lockdown developed. Such stories are the bulwark against false narratives, and I imagine someday when we’re all gone, a historian sifting through the first-drafts of this period will be grateful to have Eskenazi’s well-researched and sourced timeline of San Francisco’s shutdown. Plus that historian will get a thoroughly enjoyable read. And, ditto on Eskenazi and Mark’s picks of Annika Hom’s dialing for dollars feature and all of the stories from the food-pantry lines that Hom and Juan Carlos Lara have reported.
Like many readers, I too read Mark’s Love in the Time of Covid. Scores of journalists followed with similar articles, but Julian’s was possibly the first and offered a break from one dismal economic and health story after another. But it was his two-part series on Maurice Caldwell that ranked at the top of much of our reporting this year. It made me think differently about the whole process of exoneration.
The daily covid tracker. This was difficult for a small site to maintain, but nonetheless, was met with grace by everyone who has done it and passed it on down the line. Midway through the pandemic, we found the much-better-than-us data team of HiGeorge — or they found us. HiGeorge’s Erin Li and Anuj Saigal do fine work on the tracker. But the data also depends on smart commentary and no one has taken this as seriously as Mark Rabine, who is also my husband. He’s made it a pleasure to read.
The Story of Knives, a video by Mimi Chakarova and Erica Argueta, ran on Jan. 1, and has stayed with me throughout the year. It is a personal story of love, addiction and resilience, featuring the owners of Bernal Cutlery. Without being didactic, it also demonstrated how important city health and small business programs can be in getting people on their feet.
Throughout our reporting on covid, Molly Oleson’s illustrations have been a visual feast, capturing in one illustration the tone and texture of a lengthy narrative or turning this reported story by Natalia Gurevich into a fully illustrated story. Sometimes I look at Molly’s illustration on my profile of the Latino Task Force and think that the illustration says it all — no need to read on. Damn, I wish I could do that. I’ve collected some of her illustrations in a post here.
She managed this feat over and over again, often on the fine profiles written by Naomi Marcus, who also wrote some of my favorite pieces this year. Stories like this one about Milton, a worker at Trader Joe’s, who died a month later, and this one about Jose Montes and what it’s like to live through the pandemic alone. Such stories arrive like gifts in my inbox.
Also, I would be remiss in not giving Sindya Bhanoo a shout out for her remarkable ability to live in Austin, Texas, and add creativity and energy in our covid work for the Pulitzer Center, including this illustrated, two-part diary from Kimberly Aleman.
Lastly, most anything I have written this year has been edited by Sandra Salmans, who always makes copy smarter, livelier and tighter. Diligent editors never get enough praise and I have had the good fortune to work with some of the finest. Plus, she’s funny. Perhaps you have read her series on online dating set in the Mission, Love in the Middle Ages.
It’s been a tough year, but a great staff and crew of particularly strong interns — most recently Natalia Gurevich, Madison Alvarado, Hayden Manseau, Juan Carlos Lara and Clara-Sophia Daly — made it all so much easier.