SGV Connect 101 Interview – Chris Greenspon interviews Josh Sanchez

Chris Greenspon (CG): All right, so I’m here at Stimson Park in Hacienda Heights with local journalist Josh Sanchez. He was the former editor in chief of SAC media, one of the publications at Mount San Antonio College. He held a number of positions in the journalism program and with the publication. Josh, thanks for coming on SGV Connect.

Josh Sanchez (JS): Glad to be here. And that’s quite an introduction right there.

CG: I try. So tell us about your trajectory in journalism. How’d you get in? How’d you get out?

JS: You make it sound a lot better than it actually was. It was kind of a crackpot theory of getting in just at my local high school thought it was a homework club got pulled in. Then I ended up just working at it. Instead of just quoting friends. I started actually getting social at that when I was a freelancer at SAC media when I first started. I covered a protest as one of my first things, the Why We Walk because of the Parkland Shooting. So all of these kids are walking out of class. I get to interview the now academic senate president who was just a librarian back then, and how everything just gets put in perspective after a while. Like, I grew up with a lot of these people, whether it be position or age, they started to advance when I advanced.

CG:  And so from there, how did you get more involved in the program?

JS: They started to see that I was one of the few people that was actually willing to write and willing to do stuff. So that’s how I got promoted was when you’re one of the few people that’s willing, they throw you at everything. So that’s how I eventually got thrown at news is because no one else really wanted to do news. So I really jumped into the local scene to feel content, because it’s kind of sad to be a news editor and only have one story a week. So I had to go to all these city council meetings just so that I would have constant news going up.

CG: What were some of the local city news stories you covered?

JS: Ranged: at the very, very start I went to a couple of West Covina city council meetings back then they actually had a beat reporter not for SAC Media, but for the Tribune, who covered the region and gave them a lot of attention. And now they don’t have that. But when I was starting the whole political turmoil was they were shifting from an at large election into local district elections, which is still contentious to this day. But that was the main big story at the start.

CG: And so with the disappearance of the beat reporter with Tribune and you continuing your local city news coverage, what did you learn about local city politics in the San Gabriel Valley and the lack of coverage thereof?

JS: I learned that really fast as everything came together as the reporter either termed out or had to leave, whatever reasoning happened, that stuff started to hit. A lot of actions that were previously reported and politicians wouldn’t tend to take those actions in that community… They started to take them because no one was reporting on it. No one was following what they were doing. So until something big happened, like the health department that is currently the big kerfuffle in West Covina, among other things, like the city going into debt, being broke, all that other fun stuff. The health department is what the Tribune has recently picked up, because that’s the big thing. They’re only able to cover the big things because they don’t have the resources to cover the minutiae of the daily City Council beats.

CG: What was your experience covering these things as just a student reporter? I don’t mean to say just a student reporter, but my experience has been it’s generally a little bit harder to do these things when you’re not tied to an outlet with some amount of prestige.

JS: That’s honestly, you just said it right there. When you don’t have that prestige and you just kind of jump in, it’s really intimidating honestly, when you first start because you have no backing no real credibility of why anyone should listen or pay attention to you. The only thing I had on my side was I was pretty young, so the politicians that did reach out to me felt like they could use me manipulate me whatever. So they would be all “Hi Hey, what’s going on” so they could get like a bent. It’s honestly really weird to think about how you start off with no credibility, but once you stay in that community, you start talking to the residents, you start reporting on what they say, everyone starts to give you not full credibility because you’re still not the Tribune, you still don’t have the legacy media tie or credibility, but you do have enough buy in from the people that they’ve seen you enough that they recognize your face that you eventually get a little bit of credibility to the point where they’ll start talking to you start sending you things, mostly because they still want to use you same as the politicians. The residents are no better. But you, you start to really feel like you matter a bit more because people are acknowledging you once they start to see you there. But if you’re not there, which is a problem that a lot of my fellow student reporters, as I guess we’ll call them, fellow people on the staff ran into is they just broke in one day… They couldn’t get anything. You can’t talk to a politician can’t talk to a resident if they have no buy in they don’t know who you are, if you’re not going to stick in our community; because they figure you’re just in one day out next. And most of the staff reporters it was unfortunately they were in one day out the next, which is the only way I got buy in was by sticking around because we needed content.

CG: Did you feel that the journalism program was rigorous enough at the community college level?

JS: From what I’ve heard from my staff mates, it was actually more rigorous at the community college than a lot of them when they advance. I’ve even heard from other people that once they moved on to college, it’s just it’s a whole different ballgame. In community college what you have are people that want to do it if they’re there because otherwise they’ll draw up or they’ll weasel or whatever. In “college college” — like once you’re at the university level — you have a bunch of freshmen who are still trying to like see, “do I want this or not?” But at community college, if you’re there, if you’re in that program, you generally want to do it because you’re sacrificing work or whatever other commitments you’ve had just to go to community college to be in that program. Whereas in university, you’re just kind of feeling it out and you’re like, Oh, I’ll work for LA times or whatever. But you don’t really have any feel. But at community college, you really have the people who want to try for that.

CG: How did your perception of local governance and media literacy change in a before and after sense?

JS: Man, when I first started, and I heard all of those lessons about media literacy and how important it was, I kind of rolled my eyes and I was like, how don’t people know what media literacy is? What do you even mean? Why are you telling this to us? If we’re in this class, we’re a part of the media. We are literate. But once I started going out into the community once I started reading, like what the outlets are saying, what our outlet is saying, what everyone is interpreting these pieces to mean, you start to go wow, okay, that’s why you were teaching us about media literacy because a lot of people don’t have it. I went in thinking like everyone has it. I went I went in basically, I guess overestimating my reader. I kind of expected people to have like a level, a base level and it was honestly kind of shocking to see some people who will be telling me and telling other people like, “you need to do your own research or you need to do more research.” When they’ve like googled the one thing that agrees with what they’re saying or listen to the one piece on Tucker Carlson or Don Lemon, and they’re like, “Okay, I know everything because I did my… I heard my one soundbite or I googled the guy in his basement and the guy in his basement agrees with what I said.” It’s wild. Media literacy is really important. And those classes I rolled my eyes at them but geez, there’s a lot of people who need them.

CG: Did you take say your standard introductory political science or your US history classes at Mount SAC?

JS: Yes, I had James Stone.

CG: Okay, so my question is, by doing journalism, did you learn more about those things than you ever did in those classes?

JS: Yeah, no offense to Professor Stone or any of the Poli Sci professors at Mount SAC, but you… there’s theory and there’s practical application and a lot of what you learn in poli sci in those classes is a bunch of theory about how things should be, and when you have the mindset I had going into this that everyone understands and everyone knows, with theory, you start to think things are the way they are. But when you get the practical application that I found in journalism, you realize, “Wow, what I think the world is where I think people are at is not where people are at, and I really need to be more mindful of where people are actually at.” A lot of when I started I would write at a certain level and I would use very verbose, you know, elevated language that just wasn’t reaching who I needed to reach and I had no viewers or no readers because like, when you’re using such advanced vocabulary, it’s harder to follow. It’s more highfalutin, and you’re not really getting anywhere; you’re not writing to be read. So I had to learn to do that. And it’s honestly funny because a fellow staff member of mine once I became editor in chief towards the end, was writing in this high elevated language for their opinion pieces. And like nobody read it. No, no student, no professor and then we go to like the award show and they win like first place. And that’s where I started to remember the real disconnect here of… you hear a judge or you hear some professional who listens and reads that stuff. And they’re like, “I agree with this. I love this. You’re just you’re writing the best you’ve ever written.” But you throw that to the common person. They’re gonna be like, “What is this garbage? I clocked out after the first sentence because you’re using language that I’d have to look at my master’s thesis to understand what the hell you’re trying to tell me.” It’s really wild. The disconnect between what wins awards and what gets read actually is, and even to extrapolate further on that what the journalist thinks should be said, what actually needs to be said the disconnect there is just… it’s wild.

CG: What do you mean?

JS: — A lot of times when you go into a piece or you start to have a certain narrative thread that you’re trying to convey, like with the health department, your narrative thread might be, “West Covina can’t afford this… The state doesn’t have a process for this… And these are reasons that residents are skeptical,” and you go in with that and you start citing code, you start explaining like their finances, you give a whole budgetary report — and although that’s important, those are all facts that need to be considered — Your average reader is just going to skip those graphs and go to the one part where it says the quote of one of the politicians going “This is a great idea,” with the next graph saying “This might not be a great idea.” They’re not gonna go through all the context of these are the stats of why this is this is hard to implement and this is a rough thing to actually do. They’re just gonna go for Person A said this, and the next narrative thread of the summary of what we’ve just been talking about says the exact opposite of what X just said.

CG: Well, speaking of selective reading and writing, did you find yourself in that position of having to look at yourself honestly and think, why am I choosing this quote?

JS: Oh, my God, yes. When I first started, I was a lot more … I don’t know if reckless is the right term, but I didn’t really realize the amount of due diligence, the amount of power that actually is in that because I kind of considered myself just you know, a dumb student journalist who is you know, writing for their local are their student paper, their student publication, where’s the stakes in that? Who cares who’s reading it? I had, like 10 viewers at the very start. So it was like, who cares you know, if I misunderstand something? But then once I started to get more readers, when I started to get people engaging with me, it was like Oh, snap. When I first started, I didn’t really know the situation that was going on then. And my, my, my piece was kind of just parroting talking points. You know, I quoted what they said in the meeting. That was all true. That wasn’t, that wasn’t fraudulent. That wasn’t incorrect, but it left out a lot of context of what was actually happening. Because if you cite one person saying — we can use even global national politics on this — “there are fine people on both sides” leaves out a lot of context of what they’re referencing. There are a bunch of things where you can just cite what people are saying and you can get a certain reality from what is said versus what is actually happening. And it’s such a disconnect when you don’t realize that just quoting people isn’t enough. You sometimes have to add context. And that’s a delicate balance because if you add too much context now it seems like you’re invalidating or trying to discredit your source. So there’s a really rough line to balance that professional journalists and student journalists needs to be wary of. I don’t think I ever nailed it. I still think a lot of my old pieces are pretty rough and shoddy. And I think anyone that’s honest with themselves in the medium, will find a lot of their pieces are rough around the edges and kind of look back at it with some regrets of what could have been done better.

CG: So you’re leaving the field. You’re gonna go focus on accounting at Cal Poly. Do you have any regrets about leaving journalism behind?

JS: Quite a few. There’s always the people or the stories that you want to tell, the things you want to have said that you don’t get to if you leave. And that’s what keeps a lot of people in is you start to get involved and engaged in that community. I still get email threads from residents in West Covina and I feel really guilty every time I open one of them because I haven’t written about West Covina in a year or two, but I still see the email threads and they still want me to report they still want me to go back. But I also have to make the decision for myself of even if I do you know get to the LA Times and write about what I want to write about which is the local community, that might not be monetizable. I might be one of the first to get let go. So where’s the line of getting the information out there, versus what is needed, versus what is monetizable, what is best for you, what is best for your readers. It’s a really sad and rough thing, honestly, because I would like to do journalism. And my advisor always got mad when I would say I can’t do journalism or I won’t do journalism, because I just don’t have the funds. If I was in a different position, if my family was in a different position, like we were all rich or whatever, then I could do this without any regrets any you know, any worries, but if I were to go down this path of journalism, there would be a lot of worries about being able to provide for myself, my family, future family, because it just it doesn’t pay well and you’re always at threat of being let go. And then that’s why you don’t have local coverage is they’re making dirt wages and they can’t really do it. So that’s why I started to push towards accounting. It’s because I need the money to be able to support myself and others. And it is a regret that I have to go for accounting because there is a lot of great things in journalism, but I have to look at it from not only financial, but there’s the mental health of if you’re writing something that people don’t agree with… It’s not just that they don’t agree with it. Sometimes you take stuff personal, they’re attacking your work, but it feels like they’re attacking you, or you worked really hard on that piece and you were very fair and balanced. But they’re calling it unbalanced because it doesn’t suit their narrative. Or maybe it is unbalanced because you didn’t realize something as you were writing it because you’re writing it from a certain perspective to get that perspective to have voice: like voice for the voiceless. But even when you’re voicing for the voiceless there’s still another side that you’re not voicing, because all pieces even if you try and do balance both sides, there’s a side that wins out unfortunately, oftentimes. It’s a really delicate balance in everything and to pursue the field, you really have to either make sacrifices or really balance everything: your mental health, your finances, your life because it’s consuming.

CG: All that said, do you recommend more people get a surface level experience in journalism?

JS: Surface level…?

CG: Well, surface level as in a basic experience… a few years in community college.

JS: See that’s tricky because a lot of people don’t actually want to go the community college route. They want to go straight to university and they kind of think less of the community college route, which I have found, and it’s really sad. But I don’t know that I’d tell everyone that you should do a stint in journalism or whatnot because it’s not cut out for everyone and a lot of people that would say it’s cut out for them are the pundants or the politicians that later show up because they want to use it to project their opinion, their voice, because a lot of people that have come through our staff, not all of them, but there have been quite a few that are they have a certain bent, they have a certain view and they want to expand that view or share that view with others. I honestly feel like I was kind of a different perspective in the newsroom, because everyone in there was kind of left. There were a couple of right people and those people were kind of extreme right. I felt like there were very few people that just went in with no political leaning or very slight political leaning. And it’s honestly rough, because if I say you know everyone should try it should go in should do their stint, there’s gonna be a lot of people who are going in there to be the next Tucker Carlson, the next Don Lemon. They want to be the face of a particular bent. There’s not many people that go in there with either “I just want to be curious and you know, tell people about both sides.” There’s very few people that actually want that. And then those people that do do that, see the people that are going far right or far left, getting the killing in numbers. And they’re like, “Why the hell am I doing this? No one’s gonna read my fence sitting… You know, there are bad people on both sides or there are good people on both sides.” When if you pick a team, you can really go a lot farther. Is it good for people to have a basic understanding? Yes. Is it good for them to do a stint? Not necessarily because a lot of people that would want to do the stint, don’t really want to do it for the right reasons if that makes sense.

CG: Josh Sanchez thanks so much for taking a few minutes to come visit us on SGV Connect.

JS: Thank you for giving me the time to talk about this. There’s been a lot of things rolling around in my head about my whole experience and it’s nice to finally get those thoughts out.