He Kane, He Saw, He Conquered: Life as a Professional Journalist

Being in a journalism class provides new students with new opportunities to take on certain roles that are essential to thriving in the newspaper business. Whether working in reporting, advertising, sales, production, or social media management, all departments are vital towards developing an understanding of the campus paper as well as local newspapers. From these tasks comes a curiosity about future careers in the field and the day-to-day life of a professional journalist. Former Benicia High student, Will Kane, who has been exceptionally  successful in his journalism career, agreed to answer the many questions affixed with this curiosity.

Will moved to Benicia from Richmond in 2002 at the age of 14 and joined Mr. Gibbs’ journalism class freshman year. About the experience, he recalls, “It turned out I ended up loving it.” During his time spent in the class, he worked his way up the ranks, starting out as business manager and news editor and ultimately earning the esteemed title of editor-in-chief. “ I wrote a little bit of everything . . . I was mostly interested in news writing, not so much movie reviews or book reviews or things like that.” However, his affinity for the subject was nothing new: “I grew up loving the news and the newspaper . . . I also really liked the teacher, Mr. Gibbs, and so I wanted to sort of go see what he was like and what the class was about.”

          After graduating from Benicia High School in the summer of 2006, and with support from  the Leadership scholarship for the Cal Alumni Association, Will attended UC Berkeley, majoring in political science and writing for The Daily Californian, an independent, student-run newspaper covering both local and campus news and publishing four days a week.“It was my favorite part of college, I made my best friends there and I learned a lot.” He featured various collective stories about city and student politics, crime, and elections. “More than anything I think I realized that journalism could be really fun and it’s something I may like to do as a full-time career.”

At this point in his academic career, he had a substantial amount of credibility to further his commitment in the field. But there were doubts. “ It was a hard time, it still is a hard time, to be a professional journalist or think about being a professional journalist . . . so I think it’s what I wanted to do, but I was trying to be realistic and understand that it can be hard to get a job as a journalist.”

Nonetheless, he applied for an internship at the San Francisco Chronicle the summer after he graduated from Berkeley in 2010 and was accepted. The opportunity proved to be a definite turning point in his profession. But his work there wasn’t done yet. “I happened to be there at the right time when they needed to hire some reporters . . . so they hired me.” Working there was really not much different from what he experienced in college, “except obviously much higher quality, much better journalism, much higher stakes.” The atmosphere and attitude of the people were the same, which is what appealed to him most. “It wasn’t really until I got that job, that first job out of school, that I sort of realized–you know–gave myself over to being a full-time reporter.”

While working at the Chronicle from 2010 to 2015, there was one story he wrote that he still holds a fondness for. At the time, around 2013, there was a huge issue arising in San Leandro concerning Valley Springs Manor. The elderly care facility had essentially gone bankrupt and closed its doors. “The owners walked away and left all the people that were there on their own, except for a couple of volunteers who stuck around.” This was unacceptable to him. “It’s the state’s job, the regulator’s job to stop this from happening and to intervene.” So rather than just covering the story, he took the matter into his own hands. Over a period of two weeks, he thoroughly investigated this issue with his colleagues and, “ended up getting some laws changed.”

As for the future of his journalistic career? “In a short answer, yes, I want to do this for the rest of my life. I think there’s a lot of questions about what journalism in the media will look like in the near future . . . the honest answer is that I don’t know. The one thing I will say is that I do think that there will always be a need for journalism and for reporting and I think that people feel that now more than ever, right?”

With the current overwhelming prominence of social media, “Any reader has to be very critical of what they’re reading . . . whether that’s The New York Times or CNN . . . you’ve got to read a variety of sources and open yourself up to different opinions and understand the biases of people that are reporting.” He reflects that, “Even if I weren’t able to do traditional journalism, I would want to have a job that would help people understand the world.”

Although he loves his work, Will admits that it comes with its fair share of hardships. “The most difficult part about being a journalist is really staying skeptical, you can’t believe your sources, right? You always want to look for verification. Everyone who is talking to you wants you to believe them and some of them are not telling the truth and it can be hard to tell the difference. Certainly people have withheld the truth or denied it.”

On that same note, there are many generalizations the public has about journalism and the media. One such belief is that the field is straightforward and uncomplicated, which is inaccurate. “There’s a lot of work that goes into them [articles]. Even the basic stories require a lot of digging. I think that people forget how much work it takes to get the story accomplished.” He says, “People think of the media as one large cultural force and approach a narrative in the same way, and in my experience that’s almost never true. A lot of individual people make individual decisions and there’s no big conspiracy to make things turn out a certain way.”

Currently, Will is freelancing for multiple publications, including Politico, The Economist, and the San Francisco Chronicle. This means that these publications either hire him to write individual stories or, if he has an idea, he pitches it to them. These publications will then substantiate his work with a specific salary. “Each day, each week, I’m trying to piece together a plan for what I’m going to work on.”

The goal of journalism is to be a voice and to carry that voice to others.  As Will put it, “The most rewarding thing is when you write a story that people read and respond to . . . that helps them understand the world a little bit better or makes a difference in the world and brings an issue to the public’s eye.”

To those who are considering journalism as a future career, Will encourages you to “read as much news as you can right now, both because it’s interesting and you’re going to learn stuff and also to pay attention to how a story comes together. Ask your parents for a subscription for the Sunday New York Times either in print or online and try to read as much as that each weekend as you can. Just consuming that is going to give you great skills and a great base of knowledge.”

Finally, Will offers this last bit of advice: “. . . be really thoughtful about learning how to write and ask questions . . . keep practicing that. Every journalist starts out young and makes a lot of mistakes, but each time you do that you’re going to learn from them and you’re going to get better. I think journalism is one of those things that you learn the best by doing.”untitled

Will Kane reports a story in San Francisco’s Bayview neighborhood for the San Francisco Chronicle.     Credit: : Lea Suzuki/San Francisco Chronicle

By Lindsey Rainer

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