Documenter: Ramiro Merino Here’s what you need to know: The Council approved to award the bid to Miracle Playsystems for 14 shade structures for the Lemoore Youth Sports Complex in the amount of $176,355.  The 2020 Census report for Lemoore states that the city's “population balan

The Fresno Bee’s Fresnoland Lab is building a team of journalists to dig deep on issues critical to residents of the central San Joaquin Valley of California. We’ll explore everything from housing to land use to water access and quality.

This new lab seeks to investigate, discuss potential solutions, and engage those that have the most at stake in driving the conversation.

Danielle Bergstrom, who founded Fresnoland Media in 2018, will serve as the lab’s Policy and Engagement Editor. Find out more about the lab here.

This week, Bergstrom sat down with Fresno Bee Editor Joseph Kieta. Here is a Q&A:

Q: The Fresnoland Lab has a broad coverage area. What topics will your reporting tackle?

Danielle: There’s no shortage of policies up for debate this year. We’ll look at potential updates to the city of Fresno and Fresno County General Plans; the myriad neighborhood plans under way in the region; what specific policies and programs can address our local housing affordability crisis; how we sustain regional growth in the wake of new groundwater management laws, and why and how we can address neighborhood disparities in access to quality transportation, water, parks, and housing.

The Fresno Bee has a long legacy of deep investigative reporting examining our region’s most pressing challenges when it comes to growth, development, and inequality. The lab’s reporting will carry on that tradition.

There are many promising solutions being explored to these issues. We’re dedicated to reporting on solutions, from local initiatives under way to solutions in other communities that we haven’t yet explored in the Fresno region.

Joe: As Danielle mentions, there’s no shortage of topics to cover. Our challenge will be to take these complicated issues and make them understandable to a wide audience. If we succeed, more people in our region will have information on public policy decisions that affect their lives and livelihoods.

Q: What does it mean to be an “engagement” lab? How does the Fresnoland Lab plan to listen and respond to community voices?

Danielle: We believe that the role of journalism is to arm an audience with fact-based reporting so they can be their own advocates. We can’t do our jobs well if our work isn’t reaching all corners of the central San Joaquin Valley, especially our region’s growing diverse communities that have the most at stake in our local policy debates.

That’s why we’re planning a Public Newsroom series this year where our team will host discussions at libraries and community centers to learn more about the issues that matter and to discover stories that haven’t been told.

Danielle Bergstrom, who founded Fresnoland Media in 2018, will serve as the Fresnoland Lab’s Policy and Engagement Editor. Special to The Bee

We’re also launching a Civic Documenters program so that we can recruit and train people to report on the public meetings that impact their community and to help us build more fact-based reporting capacity for public and community meetings that otherwise are left uncovered.’

We’re planning to experiment much more with multimedia, knowing that people’s information needs are often best served on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or even TikTok.

And, we will also begin recruitment shortly for a Community Advisory Board composed of residents throughout the central San Joaquin Valley that can make sure our reporting resonates with the issues that matter most to their communities.

Finally, we want to make sure our reporting reaches audiences far and wide. That’s why we’re making it free and accessible for any other media outlets to redistribute.

Joe: Our journalism is only as good as its sourcing. The Civic Documenters project and the Public Newsroom gatherings will help our journalists be better listeners. This will inform our reporting and increase its impact.

Too many people in our region do not routinely interact with The Bee. There’s a variety of reasons for this. Language can be a barrier; that’s why we’re committed to hosting events with Spanish and Hmong translation services. We want to do everything we can to demystify The Bee and journalism, and I’m sure we’ll learn many lessons during this process.

Why is Danielle leaving the world of policy and politics for journalism?

Danielle: I’m passionate about making local policy more accessible for everyone. Every day, many decisions are made that influence where new investments go and have an impact on our economy and housing affordability. Some of those decisions are made behind closed doors. Even those made in public meetings are often discussed in ways that make it difficult for most people to understand what’s happening or how they can meaningfully influence those decisions.

I’m educated as an urban planner and have worked in various capacities as a planner for more than a decade. I believe that expertise is best put to use in fact-based, public-service journalism, explaining how different policies could work and illuminating the impact of historic and current policies on residents, especially those with the most to lose.

Don’t you have a bias? How can you be an objective reporter?

Danielle: We are all informed by our own life experiences.

I do believe that we should always challenge our biases and seek opinions that contradict our instincts. Most issues have a variety of perspectives. And, of course, there is the truth. The world of urban planning has a lot of data and evidence about what types of policies work to make a more livable city. I’m excited to bring that to our reporting.

What is your background? What have you worked on?

Danielle: I’ve worked as a city planner for the city of Fresno; a researcher and policy associate for nonprofits in New York and Oakland; a senior policy adviser for former Mayor Ashley Swearengin, and then as the policy director at the Central Valley Community Foundation.

In Fresno, I’ve worked on everything from Measure P, to the 2014 General Plan, to high-speed rail, to identifying funding for affordable housing, community development in Chinatown and west Fresno, and transit. I’ve worked on multiple neighborhood plans, from Lowell to downtown to El Dorado Park.

How are you going to be able to hold power accountable if you’re reporting on former colleagues and co-workers?

Danielle: No one is above reproach, including myself. However, I subscribe to the view that systems, policies, and institutions are more influential than the individual personalities that operate within them.

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