As a board member and Communications Director for PRSA San Francisco Bay Area, our own Brooks Wallace recently interviewed a Bay Area reporter as part of a Meet the Media series. In this Q+A, Brooks spoke with Marisa Kendall, Housing Reporter at The Mercury News to learn more about the work she does on a daily basis and to learn more about her hobbies and interests.
I’ve wanted to be a journalist since I was 16, when I got my first internship at my local weekly newspaper: The Wellesley Townsman in Massachusetts. From then on, I kept working to make that happen, getting more internships, writing for and editing my college paper (The Eagle at American University) and finally getting my first job.
You’ve covered everything from tech startups to crime to housing. Which do you like best?
I’ve enjoyed all the beats I’ve covered, and I think what I like best is that variety. I like starting a new beat that I know little about, and spending time learning about the subject and getting to know sources. Each beat I’ve worked had its pros and cons. When I covered crime, it was pretty typical for at least one of my interviews each day to cry. It was a very emotional beat, and I also sometimes had to deal with the friends and family of crime victims directing their anger and grief at me. Covering tech was much less emotional, but it was fascinating to learn about the new technology being dreamed up in Silicon Valley, and get an inside glimpse into the lives of the people who make it. Now that I’m covering housing, I’m dealing much more with every-day people and their emotions again, while also learning all about the economics of the housing market, zoning rules, and everything else.
What do you love about your job?
I first got interested in journalism because I love to write. I also love the excitement and variety of my job — each day finds me doing something different, and you never know when big news will break and send your day in a completely unexpected direction. And I enjoy the people I get to meet and interview.
How does covering San Francisco differ from South Florida, where you got your start?
One difference is the public records laws in California vs. Florida. Florida’s Sunshine laws are some of the best in the country, and gave us access to a treasure trove of police and government records. California doesn’t have such easy access, which can make gathering information more difficult.
How do you like to work with PR professionals? How do you like to be pitched?
Emailed pitches specifically tailored for the beat that I cover, and for my audience, are usually the most effective. Phone calls really never come at a good time.
Funniest/most memorable pitch you’ve received?
One of my co-workers once got a pitch that basically said: “I enjoyed reading your story about (insert grisly murder or crime he had recently covered), do you want to write about this cool new beer coozy?”
You love a good story. How do you find them? What stories are you currently looking for?
Anything that involves people trying to solve the housing crisis in a unique way, that hasn’t been written before, or stories of people impacted by the crisis that really make you stop and say “woah.”
What are some trends you’re seeing in the media industry? Any suggestions to improve it?
We need to find a better ownership model. Clearly running newspapers as for-profit companies isn’t working anymore. Whether that answer is turning them into nonprofits or foundations, getting benevolent millionaires to buy us, or something else, I don’t know.
What do you do for fun?
I swim and bike, and hang out with my two little dogs. I also read a lot of novels.