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. Iâ€™m saddened by their deaths and as I read their obituaries and online guest books, Iâ€™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 didnâ€™t know me very well, but nonetheless, they took time to help and mentor me, and for that, Iâ€™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 yearâ€™s subscription â€“ 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 hadnâ€™t yet developed the skill to pump out a 12-inch story in mere minutes. I needed time â€“ at least a good hour â€“ 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: â€œYou go home and write your story. Iâ€™ll wait here and when I get the information, I will call you and share it with you.â€
I was surprised. I was taught in journalism school that you simply donâ€™t share information with your competitors. I didnâ€™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.
Iâ€™ve never forgotten his kind act. We were competitors and he didnâ€™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, Iâ€™ve read many stories in his obituaryâ€™s online guest book about how heâ€™d eat everyoneâ€™s lunch on a breaking news story, so Iâ€™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.