Berkeleyside is thrilled to welcome two new journalists into our newsroom who will deepen our visual storytelling and our coverage of how the climate crisis is changing Berkeley.  

Support climate and visual journalism by making a tax-deductible donation to Berkeleyside.

Ximena Natera — a seasoned photographer from Mexico City who has spent much of her career in high-risk zones, documenting human rights violations against migrants, the aftermath of cartel violence and forms of community resistance and resilience — will become Berkeleyside’s first-ever full-time visual journalist. 

Iris Kwok — a recent UC Berkeley graduate and Daily Cal deputy news editor whose stories have appeared in KQED, the San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Classical Voice (she moonlights as a cellist) — will cover a new beat exploring what an environment dramatically altered by fossil-fuel emissions means for local residents, wildlife and infrastructure and how communities and policymakers are trying to adapt and seek solutions.

Both Natera and Kwok will start June 1, bringing Berkeleyside’s newsroom to a staff of eight. 

The positions are a partnership with Report for America, a national service program. Natera will also be supported by CatchLight, a California nonprofit dedicated to leveraging the power of visuals to inform and connect communities. Berkeleyside is one of just 13 California news outlets chosen for Report for America this year and one of just five chosen for the CatchLight Local Visual Desk.

“The addition of these two positions will be a leap forward for Berkeleyside,” said Editor-in-Chief Pamela Turntine. “Ximena and Iris’ work will deepen our coverage of Berkeley, providing much needed reporting on the impact of the climate crisis on our city and more of the type of visual journalism our readers have long told us they appreciate.”

Ximena Natera: Curious and community-minded

Ximena Natera. Courtesy: Ximena Natera

Natera describes herself as a “resilient and joyful woman” who aims to place the daily struggles and victories of teachers, mothers, children, artists and workers at the narrative center of her journalism.

“I thrive when I form bonds with people playing different roles within a community to map out its complexities through small stories, like a mosaic,” she said. “Berkeleyside is somewhere I can shine, to give myself to a newspaper. I’m curious and nosy and love talking to people and have always worked on the ground, going to community meetings, school dances, football games.”

A graduate of Carlos Septién García, Mexico’s first journalism school, Natera worked for six years with Periodistas de a Pie, a nonprofit that trains reporters and runs a high-profile investigative news website, Pie de Página. Natera traveled across the country on assignment and edited a monthly newspaper on Central American migration, distributed to migrants at 12 shelters throughout Mexico. 

About 40,000 nomadic members of the Yumano-Cochimí linguistic family lived in the Baja California peninsula in Mexico. Today there are less than 2,000 natives from five nations and, according to official forecasts, in less than 20 years, they will have ceased to exist. Climate change, land occupation by settlers, and policies rooted in racism have pushed these groups to the brink of extinction. Credit: Ximena Natera

Long-term relationship building is at the heart of Natera’s photographic practice. 

She spent three years reporting the story of Maria Herrera, who founded a support group for Mexican families looking for their missing children after four of Herrera’s own children disappeared. Natera’s photos for this project won the  prestigious Gabriel García Márquez Journalism Award.

Victoria Bouloubasis met Natera in 2017 on a reporting trip to El Salvador. Natera photographed survivors of the 1981 El Mozote massacre, in which over 800 civilians were killed by the Salvadoran Army.

“I’ll never forget the photos she came back with from the field, and the silent video portraits she took,” Bouloubasis said. “Ximena always catches the light. Despite the pain in the stories shared with her, Ximena always finds beauty in someone’s experience to honor their full personhood. Her ‘performance’ on the job is brave, diligent and caring.”

Since 2019, Natera has been living in New York, where she studied documentary journalism at the International Center of Photography. 

Near the start of the pandemic, she published a deeply reported photo essay about “the migrants who fed New York City.” And she covered the city’s post-George Floyd protests against systemic racism for Mother Jones, using a portable white screen she toted in on a small wagon to capture the images of young child protesters — their emotions and signs showing up all the starker against the blank backdrop.

“I love photographing people out of context,” she said. “I stubbornly take my little photo booth to places I shouldn’t.”

Iris Kwok: Persistent and inquisitive

Iris Kwok. Courtesy: Iris Kwok

Kwok says her reporting style is “patient, persistent and very inquisitive.” A compassionate interviewer, what she values most from those with power is “blunt honesty.”

“I don’t like skating around answers,” she said. “Come on, just tell me what’s on your mind.” 

Born in Palo Alto to first-generation Hong Kong immigrants (her parents met at Ohio State), she spent the first half of her childhood in Cupertino, where she started playing the cello at age 8, and the second half in the Sacramento suburb of Rocklin, where she contributed to her middle- and high-school newspapers. 

She pursued both music and journalism at UC Berkeley — becoming the director of Celli@Berkeley, an all-cello ensemble launched by members of the university’s symphony orchestra, and writing for the Daily Cal about Berkeley’s electrification plan, the debate over police staffing and the unionization of Moe’s Books

She sees parallels between her passions. 

“With the cello, I’m able to tell a story on stage. You spend so much time with the music and you have so much freedom to interpret things the way you want them to be told,” she said. “With reporting, there’s the goal of telling stories accurately and truthfully and fairly, but you also want to write in a way that people want to read it. There’s a lot of flexibility in terms of how you describe a source or what’s going on. Writing in itself is an art. You can make it beautiful.”

Kwok found the Daily Cal’s fully remote newsroom lonely when she joined mid-pandemic, but she soon found her stride. Assigned to cover the personal toll of COVID-19 in the community, she read through dozens of obituaries and cross-referenced names with those listed in the program for UC Berkeley’s annual memorial. The memories she collected of those who died won a first-place award from the California College Media Association for best COVID-19 coverage.

Her work soon began appearing in outlets across the Bay Area. For the San Francisco Chronicle, she wrote about several children’s book illustrators who helped the Berkeley Symphony reimagine “Peter and the Wolf.” For SF Classical Voice, she covered an opera documenting the pandemic stories of local farmworkers. For KQED, she examined the racial diversity problem facing classical music. And for the SF Examiner, where she worked as an intern, she reported on a nonprofit helping Asian American seniors navigate San Francisco safely after a wave of high-profile violent attacks.

“I want to include voices of communities of color before something terrible happens,” said Kwok, who’s fluent in Cantonese and conversational in Mandarin. “As a person of color, I often don’t see my story included until someone’s killed on the subway train.”

In the era of decimated local news, city-level coverage of the climate crisis is incredibly rare. As Kwok comes up to speed on a new and challenging beat, she said she’s determined to spend time developing relationships not just with city and regional decision-makers but with the low-income and frontline communities most impacted by hotter temperatures, fouler air and more flood-prone streets.

“I want to speak to as many community members as possible,” she said. “Every week I want to talk to people who have never been quoted by the media.”

Berkeleyside has a goal of raising $300,000 to underwrite both these new positions for two years, and, thanks to the generosity of our readers, we’re already one third of the way there. To support our new climate and transportation and visual journalism beats for the next two years, make a tax-deductible donation to Berkeleyside.

About Report for America

Report for America is a national service program that places talented emerging journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered topics and communities. Launched in 2017, Report for America is creating a new, sustainable system that provides Americans with the information they need to improve their communities, hold powerful institutions accountable, and rebuild trust in the media. Report for America is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, an award-winning nonprofit journalism organization with an established track record of training and supporting teams of emerging journalists around the world, including the recent launch of Report for the World in partnership with local newsrooms in India, Nigeria and Brazil.

About CatchLight

CatchLight is a hybrid nonprofit media organization borrowing from the practices of art, journalism, and social justice. It is a transformational force, urgently bringing resources and organizations together to nurture and grow a thriving visual ecosystem.

Zac Farber

Before joining Berkeleyside as managing editor in April 2021, Zac was editor of the Southwest Journal, a 30,000-circulation biweekly community paper in Minneapolis, MN. While there, he led coverage of...