Photograph by Emilie Raguso
From a homicide panel, a women law enforcement panel, to a special victims unit panel, Berkeley High School’s (BHS) Law and Social Justice class invites dozens of speakers and hosts several panels every semester. Nearly every week, James Dopman, the Law and Social Justice teacher, welcomes guests to talk about how they entered their field, what their job entails, thoughts on current events, and experiences in their life and career. And on December 7, the class invited Berkeleyside Senior Reporter Emilie Raguso. Raguso covers public safety, crime, city council meetings, and zoning meetings for Berkeleyside, Berkeley’s independent news site.
Once moving to work at Berkeleyside from Modesto, Raguso had to work extremely hard to establish a relationship with the Berkeley Police Department (BPD) by talking with the Chief of Police, and explaining that not every article will be purposefully targeting the police or be “nefarious.” However, Raguso is not afraid of talking about BPD in negative light if their actions provoke it. Raguso explained that BPD does not always include details in crime reports and notifications, so she constantly has to ask for more information. BPD once reported that a man was recently arrested and the only way BPD knew who to arrest was because of an item left at the crime scene. However, for Raguso, solely this information does not constitute an intriguing story, so she pushed to discover the item at the scene, which was a receipt with the arrestee’s name on it.
As a crime reporter, Raguso has to be weary when trying to push to get information about a crime in order to balance good relationships and breaking a story. Raguso asks herself, “Do I want to burn a bridge? Is it worth it to wait a bit a longer?” Crime reporting is a double-edged sword. Every day, Raguso receives negative feedback about her articles and writing. She said that “people are super demanding and entitled” and on Berkeleyside’s comment section, people regularly blame and critique Raguso’s writing, which she has to respond to without seeming defensive.
Usually, Raguso can write a breaking news story in 15 to 30 minutes and a regular article in an hour. Article after article, Raguso rarely becomes emotionally attached to a story. However, she said she sometimes connects to a story when she starts to talk with the families of the victims. Raguso covered a homicide when a random UC Berkeley student entered a woman’s house and stabbed her to death. Because this crime scene was such a random event, and the victim was also named Emilie, the exact spelling of Raguso’s first name, she felt emotionally attached to the story. Raguso talked with the woman’s family about their loss and, in a sense, put herself in the shoes of the victim.
Every day, Raguso’s work demands that she face the challenges of balancing the public’s view, relationships with BPD, and dealing with emotionally taxing stories. And Raguso has to ask herself, “What are the ramifications of my choices?” which seemed to spread throughout the classroom and resonate with each student as they went on to their next class.