Chronicle columnist shares lessons from the streets

Wednesday, February 12, 2020
Otis Taylor

By Cash Martinez

For East Bay columnist Otis R. Taylor Jr., spending time in Oakland’s homeless encampments is just another part of his job. It’s his involvement in the communities that he covers, he says, that helps shine a light on the desperation that they face.

Taylor, who has written for the San Francisco Chronicle for the last three years, spoke to journalism students on Feb. 5 about his experiences reporting in the Bay Area and his process for covering homeless and underprivileged communities in the East Bay.

In conversation with the students, Taylor stressed the importance of getting to know the people you interview, as opposed to simply viewing them as just sources.

“It’s easy to talk to a city official,” he said. “It’s harder to take a walk and ask someone to spend some time with you and ask them, ‘what’s your story?’”

He went on to say that journalists should attempt to look at issues from different perspectives, especially ones that are not immediately obvious. For example, after the death of Iranian Gen. Qassim Suleimani, Taylor spoke to an Iranian store owner who, in the wake of Suleimani’s death, was hesitant to return to Iran to visit his mother’s grave.

“You always have to find a different way to tell a story,” Taylor said.

He also suggested that getting to know the communities that you are reporting on will help you develop stronger stories, ones that will make your readers question why an issue exists in the first place.

“Find out the ‘why’ of the story,” he said. “Push your readers to ask questions.”

You can read Taylor’s work in the San Francisco Chronicle.

View a list of upcoming Journalism Department events.

Image: Otis R. Taylor Jr. speaks to SFSU journalism students. Photo by Cash Martinez