Q&A with Noozhawk Staff Writer Josh Molina | Local News | #socialmedia

Noozhawk staff writer Josh Molina is candid about the value of local news reporting. “A community without a trusted local news source is less informed, and therefore less powerful,” he says. (TV Santa Barbara photo)

For more than 14 years, Noozhawk has been a pioneering, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to delivering professionally reported local news for Santa Barbara County.

We provide you with factual, unbiased local news you can trust, and we deliver it in formats that are free and accessible to everyone.

It’s through the longstanding financial commitment of our advertisers, sponsors and Hawks Club members that we’ve been able to keep going and growing, 24/7.

One of the journalists in the thick of our coverage is Josh Molina, who often reports on Santa Barbara City Hall, government, politics, business and the Santa Barbara Unified School District — among other things.

Not only is Josh one of the most experienced reporters in Santa Barbara County, he’s also one of the most versatile and innovative.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in journalism?

I fell in love with journalism after taking classes at Santa Barbara City College. I enjoy telling stories and meeting new people. Journalism offers a path to access many worlds.

As I became more experienced, I began to enjoy government reporting. It’s important to hold elected officials and government employees accountable.

What does your day-to-day work look like?

I report stories and then write them. The first half of the day is often spent on interviews and research, followed by photography and writing. In between, I’m planning ahead for future stories.

What do you like most about being a reporter?

I enjoy telling stories, meeting new people, holding government officials accountable and informing the public. Journalism is also a very creative outlet. Every day is unpredictable, and it’s constantly stimulating.

It’s also fun working with like-minded individuals and previous colleagues, Tom Bolton and Bill Macfadyen. And I like to explore new technology and opportunities, as I’ve been doing with my podcast, Santa Barbara Talks with Josh Molina.

What’s the hardest or most frustrating part of your job?

Everyone loves good journalism — as long as it’s not about them. I don’t like when elected officials won’t answer questions directly because they’re more concerned about their image, or when public relations people try to spin journalists into believing an alternate reality.

Too many elected and government officials are thin-skinned and easily offended. They forget that it’s a journalist’s job to report the truth and hold people accountable.

Journalists are not police officers or firefighters or first responders, but we are equally important in a functioning society and a democracy. Without journalists to hold government accountable, we lose our freedoms and government slowly becomes more powerful.

It’s frustrating for journalists when we encounter elected and public officials who are obstacles to free speech or who put up barriers to exclude the public. These people know who they are and they need to do better.

Where do you find your stories?

As primarily a government reporter, I find a lot of my stories from advance meeting agendas. I’ve been a reporter for 21 years so I’ve developed a good sense of what matters to readers.

I also discover stories through interviews and conversations with sources, and I’m constantly looking for story ideas that might be interesting or important for readers to know.

I have no problem finding stories. I wish there were more days in the week to get to all of them!

What’s your favorite or most memorable interview?

Too many to document. I once interviewed a street singer named Portia Burton. I was on my way to the courthouse when I heard this incredible voice from under the archway. I approached her, struck up a conversation, and interviewed her several times before writing a feature about the life of a 19-year-old street singer who took classes at the Music Academy of the West but who was also struggling with life issues. It was an amazing story.

I remember interviewing the late Santa Barbara County Supervisor Tom Rogers when he was living with ALS. I was saddened and inspired by his courage to live.

As a veteran City Hall reporter, one of very few in Santa Barbara, what’s surprised you most over the years?

The more things change, the more they stay the same. The issues of 20 years ago, or even 100 years ago — housing, homelessness and preserving Santa Barbara’s unique charm — are still the issues of today.

Santa Barbara is one of the most desirable places in the world to live so there will always be conflicts between growth and preservation and how to help those among us who need assistance.

Recently, I was surprised at the exodus of top City of Santa Barbara officials. In general, there’s a lack of historical knowledge and history among elected officials that is dismaying.

While I believe increasing diversity on the City Council is a good thing, I’m not sure that district elections are the best way to achieve it. There are qualified people who would bring a tremendous value to the council, but they will never be able to serve under the district election scenario because they live in a different part of town.

Care to make any predictions on the Nov. 2 election?

Elections are not about qualifications, they’re popularity contests so it’s hard to predict the winners. I am confident that Councilman Eric Friedman will win re-election (he’s running unopposed). In general, incumbents are difficult to displace.

Why is local news so important?

Local news is the lifeblood of a community. City councils, boards of supervisors, school boards and others make decisions that directly affect our daily lives. A community without a trusted local news source is less informed, and therefore less powerful.

Unfortunately, people generally take local news and news reporting for granted. They often consume it for free and believe it will always be there when they need it. It won’t, though.

Journalists work tremendously hard to bring and report news to the public. Without journalists, we are left to people’s opinions on social media, and obviously, as we can see with the controversy over Facebook and Twitter, social media commentary is no substitute for real news reporting.

I am an advocate for teaching media literacy in elementary schools, taught by journalists. The earlier we can explain to the next generation what news is, and what opinion is, and teach critical thinking, the more informed our society will be.

You’re a journalism instructor at SBCC. Why do young journalists need to develop interviewing skills, learn how to cultivate sources, file public-records requests and report on government meetings?

Journalism exists to hold government officials accountable. Sadly, institutions of power, government or not, are often reluctant to reveal information that they believe is not favorable. Journalists must learn how to navigate that world in order to access and report on it.

Journalists need to be well-researched so they can ask smart questions and pressure officials for answers. They must learn how to cultivate sources by building trust and developing mutual levels of respect.

Access to documents and information is written into state law by the California Public Records Act, but sometimes the only way that a journalist can access information is by making a formal public records request.

It’s also important that journalists cover meetings on a regular basis. Elected and government officials behave differently when they know a reporter is watching.

Tell us something about yourself that most people don’t know.

I was born at Goleta Valley Hospital and am part Apache Indian. I love the Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Rams, but I used to be a mixed martial arts and UFC reporter for the San José Mercury News and a few MMA publications.

The late Los Angeles Times journalist Ruben Salazar is an inspiration to me, but my two children are my life.

•        •        •

At a time when consumers face a myriad of choices and unprecedented challenges in evaluating the credibility of even basic news coverage, all of us at Noozhawk are committed to providing you with local news and information you can rely on.

We strive to produce fair, accurate and unbiased local journalism that holds power to account while providing you with the facts you need to be an informed, engaged citizen of Santa Barbara County — without a pay wall or other reader restrictions.

That has been our mission since our founding in 2007, and we’re proud to continue that tradition in service to our readers now in our 15th year.

Will you help us continue to grow by becoming a Hawks Club member today? With your membership, you’re helping us make a positive impact in the community we love as much as you do, and you just may be helping us hire our next Josh Molina.

Yes, you can count on me! >

From all of us at Noozhawk, thank you.

— Bill Macfadyen is Noozhawk’s founder and publisher. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Instagram: @bill.macfadyen.

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