Emilie Raguso, who joined Berkeleyside as its first journalism hire in October 2012, is leaving to pursue a new opportunity. She will be missed, not only by her newsroom colleagues, but also by the scores of Berkeleyans who have appreciated her stellar reporting and dedication to serving the community over the past decade.
Raguso has been instrumental in building Berkeleyside — which was founded by journalists Frances Dinkelspiel, Lance Knobel and Tracey Taylor in October 2009 — into the nationally acclaimed local news site it is today. Her vision for what local news could be has left an imprint that can be found in the newsroom’s exacting standards, how it sources stories and presents its reporting, and how it engages with its readers.
Before joining Berkeleyside, Raguso, the newsroom’s senior editor for news, honed her skills covering the crime beat at the Modesto Bee and then as the editor of Albany Patch. She is a graduate of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.
The term “above and beyond” might have been invented to describe Raguso. A talented and tenacious reporter, she has worked tirelessly — often literally pulling all-nighters — to bring Berkeley the highest quality reporting on public safety, City Council, housing and development, and so much more.
Raguso’s talents were recognized by the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in 2017 when it named her “Journalist of the Year, and her work has been honored with multiple other journalism awards.
Raguso epitomizes local journalism at its best
Many times over the years, readers would express surprise that Raguso’s talents had not propelled her to leave Berkeleyside and join a more prominent, national media outlet. What they didn’t understand was that serving the community runs deep in Raguso’s blood. She epitomizes local journalism at its best: demonstrating a knowledge of, and laser focus on, the community, delving into the nuances and local implications of stories that the regional or national media might bypass, and producing the type of storytelling that helps a community better engage in civic life, join forces to effect change, and enjoy its city to the fullest.
“Emilie’s skills extend far beyond being a top-notch journalist,” said Taylor. “She’s been a wonderful mentor to reporters who have joined the newsroom over the years, an invaluable ally to our news platforms director Doug Ng on the product and design front and, with her fount of institutional knowledge, an incredible resource to Editor-in-Chief Pamela Turntine and Managing Editor Zac Farber since they joined us in 2021. She is also an excellent copy editor and photographer, the source of the best places to hike in California and beyond, and an all-around lovely person. It’s been an amazing run, and I will miss her very much.”
That feeling will be entirely mutual, Raguso said this week after attending her final Berkeleyside editorial meeting.
“When Berkeleyside hired me in 2012, I had no idea what an amazing opportunity it would be to be part of this team, or how much the organization would ultimately grow and flourish — bucking the grim trend faced by many news outlets around the nation,” Raguso said. “When I started, it was literally just the four of us sitting around a dining room table brainstorming how best to cover the city.”
“This is truly a bittersweet moment,” she continued. “I am excited to embark on the next chapter of my career, but will also be eternally grateful to the Berkeleyside founders for their boundless support and encouragement over these years. This is exceedingly rare in any field, and particularly hard to find in journalism given the extreme challenges the industry has faced.”
Going beyond headlines to explore impact of crime, insights into public safety
Raguso opened Berkeley residents’ eyes to the realities of crime on their streets and wrote many stories about the Berkeley Police Department, including when it was hit by internal discord and intrigue. She has spent the night at police dispatch; gone on ride-alongs with BPD; observed the department participating in a day-long de-escalation exercise and a separate active shooter drill at a Muslim college; drawn out the then police chief on department tactics at demonstrations; and gotten BPD to publicly acknowledge the presence of gangs in Berkeley. She also created and maintained annual Berkeley gunfire and serious injuries crash maps.
More recently, she has covered the city’s effort to “reimagine” policing in the city.
And Raguso always pushes beyond the headlines to report the deeper story and the people whose lives are impacted by crime.
After an 8-year-old girl was shot and killed through a front door during a rampage of violence in 2013 that also took the life of a young Berkeley father, Raguso spent two months covering the death penalty trial and sought out family members and others to explore what led to the tragedy and its aftermath.
After a man driving under the influence mowed down a Berkeley scientist — and new mother — on her bicycle, causing her to be pinned under his car and to narrowly escape death, Raguso went on to chronicle the woman’s miraculous recovery by earning the family’s trust and telling their story in a painstaking and moving way. Her reporting doubtless influenced the city’s decision to install a new bike lane where the crash happened.
The same is true for the portraits Raguso crafts of Berkeleyans whose lives are cut short due to gun violence. Raguso goes out of her way to find out as much as she can about victims, writing sensitive profiles that don’t skirt around the grim realities, but do provide some solace for families and the community. A memorable example is her reporting about the fatal shooting of pregnant young mother Sereinat’e Henderson in 2020.
Beautiful portraits of members of our community
And Raguso has a knack for crafting beautifully written portraits of members of the community who many Berkeleyans might otherwise not have the opportunity to know — like Chuck Feezel, who sought help for years for a mental illness that ultimately killed him; or Mila Mangold, a much-loved Elmwood neighbor, who died recently at 114 years, 7 months old. The supercentenarian was the second oldest person in the United States at the time of her death on July 2, 2022.
“There have been so many great moments in Emilie’s 10 years at Berkeleyside that it’s hard to single one out,” said Dinkelspiel, who left Cityside in June. “But what I will remember, and cherish, are the huge stories that involved the entire newsroom. Emilie was always in the lead, staying out on the streets to report late into the night, calling in details, and capturing the mood of the crowds. She was the eyes and ears of Berkeley during the protests for racial justice in 2014, the right-wing demonstrations of 2017, and the many late nights waiting for election results. That kind of dedication to community is extremely difficult to match.”
Raguso initially came onto the founders’ radar due to her work in a nearby community.
“If you know the movie Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, the line, ‘Who are those guys?’ is a running gag. Shortly after we started Berkeleyside, Tracey, Frances and I kept asking, ‘Who is this Emilie Raguso?’ as we read, day after day, her incredible coverage of neighboring Albany,” said Knobel. “We were close witnesses of what a fantastic journalist could do locally. As we learned who Emilie Raguso was, we plotted behind the scenes ways in which we could get her on our team. Emilie helped transform our journalistic pace and hunger, as well as our standards. Her recognition by SPJ was hugely merited and, I believe, a tribute to all the best beat reporters who often don’t get the recognition they deserve.”
“Having been a reporter here for almost 10 years, I think Emilie knows more about Berkeley than some city leaders,” said Turntine. “A tireless and astute reporter, she is so passionate about the work that we produce, and she does so much behind the scenes that make Berkeleyside run seamlessly. I know I am not alone in saying how much we appreciate all the work that Emilie has put into Berkeleyside. I doubt if a week goes by that someone is not commenting on how much they appreciate and respect her work. It’s not often that you come across someone who can do so much for an organization.”
Raguso, whose last day at Berkeleyside is Friday, Sept. 9, leaves the newsroom 18 months after Berkeleyside’s three founders transitioned away from daily journalism to focus on building Cityside, the nonprofit journalism organization and the audience and revenue engine that powers both Berkeleyside and its sister newsroom, The Oaklandside, which launched in June 2020.
Berkeleyside now has the biggest newsroom it has ever had, counting eight journalists, including a staff photojournalist. Berkeleyside will release details soon about hiring a new journalist covering public safety to fill the vacancy left by Raguso.
Readers are encouraged to share their stories about, and praise for, Raguso in the comments below. Those who prefer to contact Raguso directly can continue to reach her at 510-459-8325.