In January, Bay Area journalism lost Dan Reed. And today, we lost Bill Brand, a longtime Oakland Tribune reporter who penned a popular beer blog in his retirement. I’m saddened by their deaths and as I read their obituaries and online guest books, I’m reminded of the impact they had on local journalism and what great people they were.
Journalism is a small world, and in the mid-1990s, when I was a young, impressionable, sometimes naive journalist, I was fortunate enough to cross paths with them. They didn’t know me very well, but nonetheless, they took time to help and mentor me, and for that, I’m forever grateful to them.
I first met Brand in 1996 when I was a reporter for the West County Times, in Richmond, Calif. At the time, my newspaper chain was trying to make inroads into Berkeley, and was offering a crazy deal – $10 for a year’s subscription – to drive readers and compete against the Oakland Tribune. Brand was a grizzled newspaper vet who covered Berkeley for the Tribune, and one afternoon, he and I were stuck at City Hall, waiting for a city official to emerge from a locked office to give us additional details for a story.
He knew I was on deadline before a Berkeley City Council meeting, and that I was angsting. I hadn’t yet developed the skill to pump out a 12-inch story in mere minutes. I needed time – at least a good hour – to write the story, and needed to rush home to file the story before the meeting, or I was hosed. This was before Wi-Fi, back in the day when we needed phone lines to dial into the newsroom computer system. Brand took pity on me and said something like: “You go home and write your story. I’ll wait here and when I get the information, I will call you and share it with you.”
I was surprised. I was taught in journalism school that you simply don’t share information with your competitors. I didn’t trust him. But I was also relieved that he gave me an out. So I took it. An hour later, he did call. He shared all the information he had. He saved my ass.
I’ve never forgotten his kind act. We were competitors and he didn’t care. He taught me a good lesson in journalism: the difference between competition for scoops, which this was not, and being a nice guy to a fellow colleague.
As for Reed, I’ve read many stories in his obituary’s online guest book about how he’d eat everyone’s lunch on a breaking news story, so I’m glad I never competed against him. I got to know him outside the newsroom because my friends at work were good friends of his. One time, in 1997 or 1998, we met in a Berkeley pub or coffee shop one night, and I told him that I had just received a new job offer.
It was a choice between loyalty and jumping ship for much higher pay, a choice between staying in the comfort zone and pushing myself to explore the unknown. I told him I was choosing loyalty and comfort. And in a very gentle way, he told me I was making a mistake. We talked it through. The upshot: I took his advice, and took the new job, and in many ways, the decision helped me get to where I am today.
Each of these experiences is what I remember of the two men. Both were willing to help a kid out and impart their wisdom. I can only imagine the impact they made to their families, friends and colleagues, day in and day out, year after year. Because of that, their legacies live on.