News Category: Newspapers
Jeremy Walsh, photo credit Mike Sedlak/Pleasanton Weekly
Article written by Kanchan, News Team Contributor
Since its entry into the journalism world, local paper Pleasanton Weekly has come a long way. So has the city it has served for more than twenty years. In a Zoom interview, Pleasanton Weekly Editor Jeremy Walsh discussed how local journalism has evolved amid digitalization, the Black Lives Matter movement and a global pandemic.
Walsh traced back his reporting roots to his high school days, when he was the three-year editor of Benicia High School’s newspaper. After graduating in 2006, he went to American University in Washington, D.C as a journalism major.
“D.C. was a great place to be for anyone in journalism or with an interest in political science,” Walsh said.
It was at American University that Walsh got his first taste of professional journalism, with a remote semester-long internship at a Colorado newspaper.
“It was interesting, covering for an area I had never really been to,” Walsh said.
The internship opened up a number of opportunities for Walsh, who even covered a “Day In the Life” segment following the activities of a Colorado senator and other local representatives.
After college, Walsh moved back to the Bay Area, where he became a full-time reporter for the Lake County Record-Bee. He reported on “just about everything” the rural county had to offer, from its politics to court cases to wildfires to police.
“Having that wealth of coverage, I mean, we use the word passion,” Walsh said. “It’s the field that I chose and [I] will remain committed to truth and accuracy and sharing people’s stories..it’s what I’m trained to do.”
After 2 1/2 years in Lake County, Walsh joined the Danville Express as an online editor in 2013. He quickly rose through the ranks among Tri-Valley publications, eventually taking over for the Pleasanton Weekly’s previous editor Jeb Bing in early 2018.
Walsh had large shoes to fill. Pleasanton Weekly was changing, but so was the journalism world as whole, with the rise of digital subscriptions, interactive graphics and video storytelling. The Weekly had opened its doors to the digital world in the late ’90s, and had since amassed an online following from their website and social media handles. Walsh and his team focused on harnessing that potential.“We’ve run a print publication for 20 years,” Walsh said. “But the company recognized early on the importance of posting content online..and that’s something we’ve really built upon here at the Pleasanton Weekly, with social media, video work and different kinds of multimedia packages.”
When the coronavirus pandemic struck, Pleasanton Weekly’s print publication was hit the hardest. Walsh and his team made the decision to suspend distribution of the paper for nearly three months. It was a difficult choice, but one that emphasized the importance of online media.“I know there were a lot of readers that really look forward to the weekly paper in their mailbox every Friday or picking that up on a street-side box, so they really missed that,” Walsh said. “On the other hand, our online readership was though the roof. And it [wasn’t] just the coronavirus stories, but there was a lot of non-coronavirus coverage that had driven interest and commentary.”To keep up with the pandemic, Pleasanton Weekly had to do much more than go virtual. Walsh discussed how the coronavirus changed their news cycle and reporting techniques as well.“During that time [March], breaking news was just all the time. When the shelter-in-place orders first hit, that was just a week after the primary election. Results were still being counted, that was a story that still had about four or five prongs to it which just continued until the final vote,” Walsh said.Along with America’s shifting political scene, Pleasanton was hit with a “huge” local story — its first murder in the past eight years. While reporting, Walsh and Pleasanton Weekly staff performed a balancing act between accurate coverage and personal safety.“We really had to pick and chose,” Walsh said, “especially with safety considerations. Information was still coming out from scientists and [the CDC] about what was safe to do in public.”Pleasanton Weekly was learning to adapt alongside city residents, who adjusted to socially-distanced jobs, schools and gatherings. Although Walsh and his staff are accustomed to reporting via phone and email conversations, the pandemic dramatically shifted the process.“What changed was..the responsiveness time from sources,” Walsh said. “Sometimes it was much quicker, because people were working from home… For others, they’re just not used to working remotely or had personal [matters] that had to take care of. Some people were way quicker, some not so much.”
The interaction between the newspaper and its public proved pivotal amid the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. Following the widely-condemned death of George Floyd, thousands of residents attended a protests in central Pleasanton. The community has used Pleasanton Weekly as a platform for a dialogue about race relations and police brutality.“It’s a mixed bag,” Walsh said. “In terms of facilitating a discussion, we have both print Letters to the Editor as well as a Town Square. The online thread is a bit more [relaxed] in terms of parameters, since people don’t have to share their identity. You could argue that they’re more apt to share their actual perspective. But on the other hand, they might be more likely to..share opinions [they] don’t actually agree with, or stoke the fire.”To keep the conversation civil, Walsh requires necessary checks on any submission to the Letters to the Editor section. Writers must include their full name, phone number and email [preemptively checked by the Pleasanton Weekly] to preserve accountability for their rhetoric.“Letters to the Editor is as ‘on the record’ as we can get, and as honest as people can be,” Walsh said.Despite countless setbacks, Pleasanton Weekly has maintained readership and community rapport. The newspaper re-opened print distribution in June, while consistently updating their online platform. After a rocky few months, Walsh and his team have their eyes on the road ahead. As the local election season takes Pleasanton by storm, the they plan to host candidate forums to better educate the Tri-Valley public.“We’re very fortunate to be back,” Walsh said. “The enthusiasm and commitment from our readers in Pleasanton and across the Tri-Valley really drive our success as a news organization. Without their support, we would not be able to thrive as local journalists.”
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