The Northern California branch of the Society of Professional Journalists this week named Mission Local’s Annika Hom the region’s top emerging journalist. It also recognized Mission Local executive editor Lydia Chávez for her career achievements, and awarded the top spot for community service journalism to Mission Local’s Christina A. McIntosh for a series of stories about a lethal fire, deteriorating conditions and top-down neglect in a San Francisco housing project.
Hom, 25, joined Mission Local in mid-2020 as part of the Report for America program and very quickly became the innings-eating, top-of-the-rotation starter that every editor wants on their staff. She is a high-energy, crack reporter who simply knows how to string together the nouns and the verbs — and tell the stories of people others have forgotten.
The breadth of her ability was on display in a heavily reported and deeply textured two-part series about public-housing residents forced to live in squalor, and the multibillion-dollar company that reneged on a promised rebuild of the site after it found it wouldn’t be eligible for a government money windfall.
Hom went well beyond the splashy nature of covering a terrifying mass shooting to write a thoroughly researched piece about the troubled life of the man suspected of spraying 24th Street with bullets. Her poignant obituary for Mission fixture John “Lone Star Swan” Ratliff, a homeless man and bird aficionado, was deeply powerful and moving.
Hom is the second Mission Local writer to win this award; Julian Mark, currently at the Washington Post, was named the Outstanding Emerging Journalist of 2020.
“It was clear early on that Annika would become a first-rate reporter,” said Chávez. “She kept asking, ‘how did you figure that out?’ She could walk between BART and the office and see a couple of stories along the way — an editor’s dream reporter.”
Chávez founded Mission Local in 2008 — and, 15 years later, it’s still here and so is she. She was a professor of journalism at her alma mater, the University of California, Berkeley, from 1998 to 2019, and previously wrote for a number of publications, most notably The New York Times, where she served as bureau chief for South America and El Salvador during that nation’s bloody civil war.
During the pandemic, Chávez threw herself into on-the-ground reporting on the plight of the Mission. With Hom, she produced the definitive article about Covid-19 in San Francisco: While this city and its leaders pat themselves on the back for our sparkling covid numbers, Latinx people here actually fared worse than Latinx people in cities that were harder-hit overall. This was obscured by looking at averages, instead of exploring the data associated with distinct communities.
Only Chávez thought to undertake the research that revealed the truth behind San Francisco’s pandemic numbers, and upended this city’s (ongoing) self-congratulatory narrative.
“That was a crazy time — it was all-hands-on-deck, and we didn’t have that many hands,” said Chávez. “Seriously, being here, working with [Joe] Eskenazi and a group of young, hungry reporters has been a privilege.”
Former Mission Local intern Christina MacIntosh took an assignment about a fire in a Potrero housing complex that registered barely a blip on the news radar, and produced a multi-part exposé of neglect and squalor that triggered an incendiary Board of Supervisors hearing on the matter.
MacIntosh’s on-the-ground reporting revealed the tensions at the site, as residents suffered through dangerous and antisocial behavior from squatters — and absentee management. This led to a deeper exploration of structural neglect on-site — and, subsequently, a damning city report documenting mismanagement by the private firm paid to oversee this site.
“This was fabulous, compelling and empathetic reporting from Christina that forced the city to stand up and take notice,” said Mission Local managing editor Joe Eskenazi. “I am not surprised, but very pleased, that she was honored for her community service.”