Emilie Raguso / Louis Goodman – Transcript

Emilie Raguso / Louis Goodman – Transcript

Link to the Podcast:


Louis Goodman 00:03
Welcome to the Love Thy Lawyer podcast, where we usually talk with attorneys about their lives and careers. I’m Louis Goodman. Today, we’re going to do something a bit different. We’re joined today by a journalist who is probably the most influential reporter working the crime beat in Alameda County today.

Emily Raguso founded The Berkeley Scanner, an online news outlet that has had enormous influence on the Alameda County criminal justice system. She’s worked at The Berkeleyside, The Albany Patch and The Modesto Bee before founding The Scanner. Emilie Raguso, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.

Emilie Raguso 00:47
Thank you so much for having me.

Louis Goodman 00:50
It’s a pleasure to have you. Where are you speaking to us from right now?

Emilie Raguso 00:55
Today, I’m at my home in Oakland where I live in an apartment, a rent-controlled apartment, which I mentioned because I think it’s actually really facilitated my being able to sort of do this job and I spend a lot of time here. And then the courthouse has sort of become my second home.

Louis Goodman 01:15
What sort of work are you doing these days?

Emilie Raguso 01:19
These days, I have two main topics that I’m covering. One of them is broadly public safety in Berkeley. That could be everything from sort of breaking news to in depth stories on cases or policy that the City Council is doing. My other big coverage area is the District Attorney’s Office. Since we have this historic new District Attorney, I’ve been keeping a very close eye on what she’s doing in the cases that are most illustrative of those changes.

Louis Goodman 01:54
How long have you been a reporter?

Emilie Raguso 01:55
I have been a reporter, well, I graduated from journalism school at Cal in 2006, and I had been doing some reporting prior to that and during that time, but I got my first job, my first full time job after graduating.

Louis Goodman 02:12
Where are you from originally, Emilie?

Emilie Raguso 02:14
I came from the East Coast. I grew up in the D.C. area. And then I went to Reed College. But when I grew up in D.C., both my, my mom and stepfather are lawyers. One of them is a defense attorney, the other one was a prosecutor with the federal government. And then my father is a contractor. He had a ceramic tile business. And so I had a lot of different experiences growing up, but I really grew up primarily in my mom’s law firm because she was a single mom for much of that time. And I was a child when she was in law school. So I decided at a very young age, after many weekends at the law firm that that was not a career I could see for myself, but I actually think there’s a lot of parallels with what we do as reporters.

Louis Goodman 03:06
So you went to high school in the D. C. area?

Emilie Raguso 03:08
Yep, I went to public school all the way through, and then I ultimately went to Reed College in Portland, Oregon, and that was a great experience, and then I came down here for grad school.
Louis Goodman 03:21

Well, Reed is a very progressive, different, unusual kind of school. I’m wondering if you could tell us a little bit about your experience there.

Emilie Raguso 03:28
What I loved about Reed is that the focus, at least when I was there and probably still, is they really teach you how to think. I mean, that’s their big marketing pitch. They want to teach you how to be analytical, how to look at multiple sides, and the classroom, most of the classes are very small and you’re expected to really engage closely and just, I love that, the participatory nature and that people really have to explain, explain positions and be able to take multiple perspectives and, and understand them. So I think that has really provided a lot of foundation for my work as a reporter.

Louis Goodman 04:08
When you graduated from Reed, you ultimately went to University of California School of Journalism in Berkeley. Did you take any time off between leaving Reed and going to Cal or did you go straight through?

Emilie Raguso 04:21
I went straight through and I think I grew up sort of just always expecting college and then grad school and then career. That was kind of how, that’s the trajectory of the folks in my household. And so, but then it was a big decision actually at the moment between college and grad school because there’s a lot of people who think, oh, you don’t really need to go to grad school for journalism. You just go right out into the workforce and you learn on the job. Is it sort of worth that big financial investment? And do you need it? And I spent a lot of time talking to people about whether that was the right thing to do, but ultimately. I had a fantastic experience at the Graduate School of Journalism here in terms of the people you meet and also just being able to get really close feedback on your writing and the craft of writing and just learning all those things.

So between the networking and then the skill development for me, it was absolutely critical and really I can’t imagine that I would have had, I mean, it just laid the groundwork for sort of every job I ever got afterward.

Louis Goodman 05:32
So if a young person wanted to be a reporter, would you recommend going to a graduate program in journalism?

Emilie Raguso 05:38
I do think you can do it both ways. It just, and I think I had an advantage at the time when I went to grad school, so 04 to 06, the financial picture was just much different of what, what they were charging, particularly for in-state students. And so now it’s much more expensive and as you may know, journalism is not the highest paying profession. And so if you go make a huge financial investment like that, it’s going to be a big obstacle, I think I so I think it just it depends if you can afford it, if you’re willing to take on the debt or you can pay for it, or there are options like if you can get some kind of tuition remission, which I was fortunate to get by working there or, but I would say money aside. It is a great experience just to be able to learn so many skills and like have access to people who are inevitably you’re going to learn from and they will be able to help you in so many ways as you grow.

So I loved journalism school and I did a eight months program fellowship internship at Mother Jones before going to J school and that too was immensely important because you really learn like nowhere else. You learn just like every word, is this true? Is this accurate? And going through that process for eight months, I think kind of changed my whole approach to the job. And it’s something that, you know, just a lot of people don’t, don’t get to experience that.

Louis Goodman 07:16
Now you’ve told us that you rejected law as a profession at a fairly early age. When did you first start thinking, you know, I want to be a reporter. I think that that would be a good job for me and something I’m interested in.

Emilie Raguso 07:31
I always loved writing. It was when I was at Reed that I came upon journalism as what I wanted to do. And part of it was driven by just seeing the importance a newspaper can play in a community.

When I grew up in Northern Virginia. I don’t know if this was just my experience or it was the community overall, but it felt very separate and we weren’t really tied in with the local town, with what was going on. And so I think people are sort of just living their lives separately. And I came to really believe when you have local news and you actually know what the policymakers are doing and what is happening all around you, it just gives you a much better sense of your community. And that became something that I wanted to play a role in.

There was a period of time I actually majored in Chinese and I thought, and then I was starting to read the New Yorker and just falling in love with long form articles. And so at a certain point, I thought maybe I’ll try to go be a human rights reporter, go work in China and do big long form stories. But then that evolved as I got into the field and saw sort of what the opportunities or the doors were for me. And just how important local news can be, it shifted my focus to where I am now.

Louis Goodman 08:58
What did your friends and family say or think when you told them, you know, I’m going to go to journalism school and I’m really going to devote my career to being a reporter?

Emilie Raguso 09:10
You know, journalism is one of those jobs that I think a lot of people see it as a really fun job. There’s a lot of movies and shows about journalists. And so I think, but then it’s also, it’s not very well paid, and is it a way that you can really support yourself or what kind of future will you have? And also, as I was getting into journalism, the whole industry was shifting around and sort of collapsing and rebuilding. There wasn’t much online news and there certainly wasn’t much sort of independent local online news. And so I would say my parents probably would have been happier if I had gone to law school or something else that had more where you could more predictability, but everyone was very supportive and has been so I’ve been really lucky.

Louis Goodman 10:07
Many of us in the Alameda County court system started noticing your reporting fairly recently. What is it that prompted you to start covering the courts?

Emilie Raguso 10:18
Yeah, that has been so interesting because I was at Berkeleyside for 10 years but in my role at Berkeleyside, I covered a lot of different things, including one of those things was public safety. And so I would go to Renee C. Davidson, mostly, sometimes Wiley. I would go to cover Berkeley cases and, but primarily the PX or the trial. And there just aren’t that many big Berkeley cases, homicides, or serious sex crimes, the things that would rise to the level where, where I would be covering them. So I would maybe go to court several times a year, a handful of times, and I would get to know the attorneys on that case or, you know, the judges might recognize me because I was there for the whole PX, but nobody really knew who I was. And so this year has been really interesting to experience. To now, when I go to court, it’s like people say hello to me and they, they know, oh, The Berkeley Scanner. And what happened was, so I’m a one person operation and my goal was to just cover Berkeley public safety really well. That was my initial business plan, but then as we got into election season, a lot of people said, Hey, could you, could you cover the DA’s race? Now this was when I was first launching and I just didn’t have the bandwidth to write about the race as it was going on. But then, of course, once Pamela Price won and everybody saw what big changes were likely to be coming, it became clear to me that this was an area that was critical information for people to have and would just be fascinating to learn about. So, I quickly sort of started getting up to speed and people were telling me things about what was going on in the office and just as things were developing, it was obvious this was a huge story and I wanted to be not only on it, but really one of the top people, you know, I wanted to be an expert in what was going on. I wanted to develop those sources and be able to tell stories that really nobody else was telling.

Louis Goodman 12:36
Do you enjoy the aspect of the job that has to do with dealing with lawyers?

Emilie Raguso 12:43
I love talking to lawyers. I don’t know if it’s because, you know, that’s the household I grew up in, but as I said before, I think there are a lot of parallels between the skills and maybe the approaches of journalists and attorneys and, you know, it’s a lot of smart, thoughtful, analytical people who just have a natural curiosity and just are very engaged. So I think those are exciting people to be around, and especially in the criminal justice system, which is most of what I look at, it’s just, these are dramatic stories and complex.

The defense and prosecution for these cases, there’s a lot of complexity, so I think it’s a really meaty area to be in.

Louis Goodman 13:32
Should lawyers talk to the press?

Emilie Raguso 13:34
I absolutely think everyone should talk to the press. And what it always comes down to though, is trust. I have prided myself on just through everyone, all the people that I have gotten to know in my career, I want them to feel like I will accurately represent what they’re telling me, and I want them to, you know, as much as possible have some sort of ownership over what they’re telling me, so on complex stories or where there’s sensitivity, I will often sort of go over a story verbally with people if they’ve, they feel at all uncomfortable or, you know, vulnerable.
So I think it’s all about building that relationship of trust. And since I have been here in this community for I guess almost 20 years now, you get those opportunities and if you’re just dipping into an area now and then, then it can be challenging because people don’t know you, but when you’re here, it’s just really important to treat people ethically because if you screw one person over, everyone’s going to know it. And that’s just no way to sort of develop the kind of insights and background that we need to tell these stories responsibly.

Louis Goodman 14:55
What can lawyers do to assist you in your reporting?

Emilie Raguso 15:00
I think some of the things are actually really basic. As you know, the, the court system is not always the most transparent place. So, you know, when I’m trying to figure out when a case is happening, oh, it’s scheduled for 8:30, but hey, it’s actually not going to be on the calendar until 11 or the afternoon, or there’s basic logistics where it’s like, hey, this hearing actually will be in this courtroom at this time or helping get documents sometimes since I’m not an attorney, I have to go into the clerk’s office to actually get documents as opposed to being able to access it through remotely. So there’s some logistical things like that, but then there’s also, because there’s a lot of language that’s used in cases and in hearings that can be confusing.
So just being willing to answer some questions off the record about, hey, what just happened in there? And what can we expect? And oh, there’s a preliminary hearing set for July? That wasn’t on the calendar yet that I could see. So I think all of those insights can be really helpful, especially because court reporting, I mean, it’s just so time consuming if you’re going to sit through these hearings. So anything that can make it more efficient is extremely valuable.

Louis Goodman 16:22
What mistakes do you think lawyers make when talking to reporters?

Emilie Raguso 16:26
It’s obviously the job of attorneys to advocate for their clients or their side. And as a reporter, I’m always sort of, I want to be objective and understand, Hey, what is the evidence here? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the case? So if there’s a way to help a reporter understand those things, I think it can be really helpful. I think if you, A, if you say no comment, you know, I think that’s a mistake or I think it’s good to just be willing to, if you don’t want to be quoted, just say, Hey, this is off the record, but you should understand this. So I think the sort of blanket no is unfortunate. I think that’s really a big mistake, especially for an elected official.

Louis Goodman 17:16
If a young person were thinking about a career choice, would you recommend being a journalist?

Emilie Raguso 17:23
It’s a double edged sword. I don’t have any kids. If I did have kids, I’m not sure I would recommend this job because for one thing, I think our industry is really struggling.
During the Trump presidency I think it became clear to many people how important local news is, and so people are much more likely to support local news sites now than they were in the past because they see what an important role it plays for democracy. But that said, I think there are still a lot of struggling newsrooms who have limited resources, and I think there’s a lot of sloppy reporting out there.

So I think as an industry, we’re just struggling with quality control and, and accountability. And so it would sort of be, it would be difficult for me to recommend this, but as a job, it is the most fun job. I feel like for me, it’s the best job in the world. So I think you can have amazing experiences and learn so much in this career.

Louis Goodman 18:26
How has actually working as a journalist met or differed from your expectations?

Emilie Raguso 18:32
That’s a hard question. I don’t know what kind of expectations I had because I never knew anyone in journalism, but I will say it’s exceeded my expectations because every day this job is just so much fun. You never know, you never know what story is going to come your way. And then the other part of this job that’s awesome, especially in this community, and this was when I was at Berkeleyside, but also when, now that I’m running The Berkeley Scanner. People are just so appreciative, like they know that this is something special, that it’s special to have really robust local news and really in depth, detailed things and, and they are just, they express that appreciation in so many ways.

So I just, I honestly feel so lucky every day and I don’t think I could have anticipated that, to just be told every day, like your work matters is something that most people don’t get to experience.

Louis Goodman 19:33
What about the business of independent journalism? How’s that gone for you? For those of us who are practicing law, we recognize that we’re attorneys and we have professional obligations, but many of us were also run a business and law firms are businesses. We all need to support ourselves. So I’m wondering what the business of independent journalism has been like for you and if you could talk about that aspect of it a little bit.

Emilie Raguso 20:01
It’s been fascinating to become an LLC and to run my own business because I hadn’t done that before.

My vision for this, I mean, one, one thing that allowed me to do this, The Berkeley Scanner, the way I’ve done it is in the past two years, we’ve all seen the sort of proliferation of sub stack and different sort of one person having their newsletter or the way that they want to do it. So with the advent of new technologies and new systems, it allowed me to just sort of create this new site and I initially was not sure if people would pay for what I was doing, I mean, I knew always in the past, my stories at Berkeleyside, people would read them, people would share them. These are things people often want to read about, whether it’s breaking news or some really in-depth case, but I just wasn’t sure if people would pay, but I believed they would support it. And so initially when I told my parents I was going to do this, they were very much like, did you do a business, you know, what’s your business model? Have you done some kind of analysis? And I was just like, no, I just believe it’s going to work out. And they weren’t really thrilled about that. They were very concerned, but I believed that this community would support me and it has so my whole model, I don’t do advertising. It’s all just based on people being members of the Scanner and you can either be a sort of monthly supporter or give once. And from the very beginning, there was a huge outpouring of support. And so I’ve basically been profitable from the get go. I did have to loan myself some money, but I quickly paid myself back. So, it’s been profitable. I’m still not making as much as I was at my old job, but I’m making a living. I’m able to save. And so what is still sort of to be determined is, will that support last? I’ve only been doing this seven, eight months, like, will the support last? Will people get tired of monthly subscriptions and how will it go? But for now, it’s just growing every month and going really well. And I am just so grateful at the level of support people have shown. And a fair amount of that has been driven by interest in the District Attorney’s situation.

Louis Goodman 22:29
Do you anticipate expanding staff at some point? I mean, you said you do all of it yourself right now, and I’m sure that there’s some things you probably wish you could outsource to someone else.

Emilie Raguso 22:42
Thought more and more about whether to hire someone or, you know, expand. My initial vision was just that I wanted to have a job that I love that I can do until I retire and just be a sort of sole proprietor on it.

But I do, I mean, I’ve always been a workaholic, I love this job and I am really passionate about all the stories that need to be done. Over time, I do think it would be nice to outsource either some of the administrative stuff or some of the less involved stories or, you know, especially in the past few months people have said, Hey, it would be great to have an Oakland Scanner or could you hire another person to do that?

I haven’t figured it out yet. The idea of being an employer sounds a little daunting. At some point I will have to figure out a better work life balance because right now it’s just, it’s just all work and I don’t want to burn out.

Louis Goodman 23:42
What advice would you give to a young reporter just starting out?

Emilie Raguso 23:47
The advice I would give to a young reporter? I mean, my reporting has always been very beat-focused. So you get to know people in whatever area you’re covering and you build strong, trusting relationships with them. And then you’re able to cover something, that’s what allows you to cover something really closely.

So I think the most important thing a young reporter can do is work to build those relationships and understand how important it is to handle those, like, ethically and with care. That means making sure people feel your stories are accurate. It means fixing things when you do make mistakes. It’s just, that’s just isn’t something I see happening a lot and I don’t know why. When I look around at other articles, there’s often kind of issues with them. And I think that’s in large part because there’s just fewer of us having to do all the work. So the quality has gone down. But yeah, that’s my biggest advice is just get to know people on your beat. And make sure that your stories are detailed and accurate to the best extent possible.

Louis Goodman 25:05
What, if anything, would you change about the way the modern news distribution works?

Emilie Raguso 25:10
I just think right now, I know in the past decade or two, the whole news media has been kind of grappling with how do we become trusted and make sure people trust us in our communities. People hire an ombudsman, or they try to be more accessible, but I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to go to a news website and either write to the editor or write to their reporter or just get in touch with them. It’s often very hard to actually find a human, like if you see a story that’s wrong. And I think that’s a piece of it. That’s not really a news distribution question, but it’s just as far as the institution of journalism today. I just feel like there needs to be a lot more sort of accessibility and accountability, and I don’t know if it’s people are just moving too fast, but I just think there’s a lot of inaccuracy in reporting. And then how do people know what to trust?

So, I don’t know. To me, that’s the biggest problem in journalism right now, is there’s a lot of errors in stories that no one seems to care about fixing, and I don’t understand that.

Louis Goodman 26:19
I’m going to shift gears here a little bit, Emilie. What other things do you like to do? Recreational pursuits, family pursuits? I mean, what sort of things do you like doing?

Emilie Raguso 26:29
My favorite thing to do, other than work, is hike. And so, like, last year, I was hiking every weekend. I mean, if I could, I would just spend all my time on the trail. And especially up in Northern, you know, Humboldt County, it’s like my happy place. And, and so camping and hiking are my favorite things and like looking for agates on the beach, just beachcombing in general, those kinds of things. And I haven’t really been able to do it at all this year, but I think, you know, as time goes by, I will find time for those things that I do, I do love.

Louis Goodman 27:07
What sort of things keep you up at night?

Emilie Raguso 27:10
The main thing that keeps me up at night, I mean, it’s been difficult at times these past few months as I have, you know, more people have become aware of my work and I have a lot of intense positive feedback, but then there’s also been some criticism that often feels very unfair, and so I think the things that keep me up at night is when people levy unfair criticism at me, and then I want to respond, but, you know, sometimes responding just leads you down a rabbit hole of someone who is never going to hear what you’re saying, and they don’t want to believe that you’re sincere.

So I think. The sort of online trolling or negative attack piece that’s happened. Those are the kinds of things that keep me up.

Louis Goodman 27:57
Is there someone living or dead who you would really like to meet or interview as a reporter?

Emilie Raguso 28:03
The person who just immediately springs to mind is Amelia Earhart. My actual, I was named after her. My real name is Amelia, but I have never gone by that. My parents never called me that, but that’s what’s on my birth certificate. But yeah, she would be fascinating to hear about her life and everything that she accomplished.

Louis Goodman 28:23
Let’s say you came into some real money, three or four billion dollars. What, if anything, would you do differently in your life?

Emilie Raguso 28:31
I would love to expand this business, you know, if money and resources were no object, but then I would also just love to move up to Humboldt and just hike all the time. So I’m not sure those are not very generous answers, but those are the things I would do for me.

Louis Goodman 28:48
Let’s say you had a magic wand, there was one thing in the world, the reporting world, the legal world, or otherwise, what would that be? What would, what would be one thing you’d like to be able to change?

Emilie Raguso 29:01
I mean, honestly, I just wish, like, news organizations were more responsive when there are errors in the stories. It’s like, that’s another thing that just keeps me up at night. I just don’t, as someone who’s a stickler for accuracy, I don’t understand how newsrooms can ignore problems that get raised and they just won’t change them. So I think that’s something I just wish there was more transparency and accountability around.

Louis Goodman 29:27
Let’s say you had a really big microphone. Let’s say a Super Bowl TV ad, 60 seconds on the Super Bowl. What would you like to say in that forum?

Emilie Raguso 29:38
Honestly, just support your local newsrooms. I mean, all of these questions, I know I just keep coming back to journalism because it’s really all I think about, but yes, please support your local newsrooms. This work is critical to our democracy and we can’t do it without that community support. I think everyone should just find a way to chip in at whatever level they can, if they have a local news outlet that they value, it’s like those stories are not free, a lot of them are very labor intensive and we need your help.

Louis Goodman 30:16
Well, speaking of chipping in, if someone wanted to chip in something to the Berkley Scanner, or just wanted to get in touch with you for whatever reason, give you some sort of a news tip, talk to you. What is the best way for someone to get in touch with you?

Emilie Raguso 30:37
The best way for people to reach me is to go to berkeleyscanner.com and on the site you’ll find ways to reach me. You’ll find ways to contribute. It’s all there. I absolutely prioritize getting back to people. I don’t always get to as quickly as I want because I’m so busy, but if you write me, I make every effort to get in touch.

Louis Goodman 31:08
Emilie, is there anything that you would like to discuss to cover that we haven’t touched on?

Emilie Raguso 31:14
I think you’ve covered all the bases.

Louis Goodman 31:16
Emilie Raguso, thank you so much for joining me today on the Love Thy Lawyer podcast.
It’s been a pleasure to talk to you, and I will look forward to continuing to read your coverage of the Alameda County Court System.

Emilie Raguso 31:30
Thank you so much. I really appreciate you having me, and I can’t wait to see who you interview next.

Louis Goodman 31:37
That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. If you enjoyed listening, please share it with a friend and follow the podcast. If you have comments or suggestions, send me an email. Take a look at our website at lovethylawyer.com, where you can find all of our episodes, transcripts, photographs and information.

Thanks to my guests, and to Joel Katz for music, Bryan Matheson for technical support, Paul Robert for social media and Tracy Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.

Emilie Raguso 32:15
So I put on a more comfortable shirt now that I’m sure we’re not recording the video.

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