Iris Kwok poses for a photo at the Berkeley Crescent on Aug. 24, 2022. Credit: Kelly Sullivan

Berkeleyside is thrilled to welcome a new journalist into our newsroom who will deepen our our coverage of how the climate crisis is changing Berkeley.  

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

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 Kwok will start June 1, at the same time as Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside’s new visual journalist, bringing Berkeleyside’s newsroom to a staff of eight. 

The positions are a partnership with Report for America, a national service program. Berkeleyside is one of just 13 California news outlets chosen for Report for America this year.

“Iris’ work will deepen our coverage of Berkeley, providing much needed reporting on the impact of the climate crisis on our city,” said Editor-in-Chief Pamela Turntine.

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.

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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...