Steven T. Jones – Editor, San Francisco Bay Guardian
A superhero is a crusader fighting for the cause of justice. Typically this war is waged with fists, as in the case of Superman. However, Superman’s civilian identity was that of journalist Clark Kent, fighting on the front lines of a different sort of war, armed with pen and pad, or perhaps, a word processor. This spirit of journalist as a crusader isn’t necessarily evoked by all of the trade, but does resound in the words of Steven T. Jones, the new editor of the San Francisco Bay Guardian as of July 2013.
Jones, a 22-year veteran of seven California newspapers – the last ten as the Guardian’s city editor – is ready to “fight for the soul of San Francisco” in his new post, which is “the basic thing [the Guardian] has always been about since 1966 when it was founded,” he said. In San Francisco, the stakes seem higher than ever to Jones, making the local journalist’s role a crucial one.
“Certain sectors of our economy are booming, including the tech sector and the real estate market, but that’s really gentrifying the city and forcing out a lot of its longtime residents, hurting our diversity. We see our mission as creating an informed and engaged citizenry that can play a role in creating the San Francisco of tomorrow,” he said.
While Jones’ respect for the Guardian’s traditional, progressive coverage is evident, he also plans for its renewal. The paper’s staff recently held a forum to connect with the San Francisco community and grasp readers’ needs. It’s a mission Jones is ready to accept, while mindful of the tension between what the city has historically been, and the ways it’s transforming.
“A lot of people have fought to keep [San Francisco] a diverse city and keep it inclusive, and that is under threat right now,” he said. “We want to actively help shape the city, and win the battle here, then begin to empower people to take control of their communities around the country.”
What’s at stake, in Jones’ eyes, is control of the country’s future, and he questions who will determine its fate. “We firmly believe that it should be the people, and that the pathway to that is to have them informed, have them engaged, and I believe we are an important vehicle for that,” he said.
While a superhero’s vehicle might more readily conjure up mental images of the Batmobile rather than an alternative weekly newspaper, the latter may indeed be apropos as a means toward the end of grasping truth. Jones sees the Guardian championing this cause, calling alternative weeklies both “invaluable and essential.”
“I understand the mainstream media and those who believe in this very objective style of journalism, which is often a little bland, and often doesn’t get at the truth,” Jones said. “In a dynamic, progressive city like San Francisco, we want to be doing the kind of journalism that is pushing for the truth of the situation. If one side is lying or trying to fool people, we want to call that out in an aggressive way.”
A superhero’s pursuit of truth and justice is often reliant on a utility belt of gadgets. Journalists are similarly equipped in a more contemporary sense with social media tools, which Jones is ready to deploy.
“It’s not enough anymore to just do good stories,” he said. “People are exposed to a multitude of channels right now, and you’ve got to get their attention. Ultimately, social media is a tool to feed people back into an activity that really hasn’t changed much, which is telling good stories and doing good journalism. In this modern age, how you get them to the stories and the digital tools you use to get them there are extremely important.”
Jones’ understanding of the digital utility belt, however, doesn’t diminish his love for print. Though he admits that some content is best in an online format, he plans to allot energy toward reinvigorating the Guardian’s print product.
“In a digital age, print is value added. Particularly for a progressive paper [like the Guardian], what we’re doing next is akin to movement building. I think the more we can not give up on print, and remind people that it’s still a valuable medium, even in a hyper-connected, tech-savvy city like San Francisco, I think it’s going to be good for everything,” he said.
Echoing Jones’ devotion to the classic nature of print is his advice to aspiring journalists. He notes that a command of ever-evolving technologies is essential, and “whenever possible, find areas to specialize in.” However, he says, “There is no substitute for good writing. All the technological bells and whistles are not going to help you tell a good story.”
Jones is open to receiving press releases and story pitches via email.
He prefers PR professionals not to call to follow up. He particularly advises against calls on Mondays, when the paper is on deadline.
Concerning specific guidelines, Jones said, “Generally, my advice is to understand the Guardian and whomever you’re pitching, so you have a better sense of their approach to news and their needs.”
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