From City Hall to KQED
Scott Shafer is a trusted voice of the news on KQED Radio. He provides insightful analysis and in-depth coverage of important issues as host and reporter for weekly newsmagazine The California Report, a KQED News production that is broadcast on more than 35 stations statewide.
But Scott hasn't always been a radio host. Before coming to KQED, Scott worked
for some of the top government officials in the Bay Area and California, including
the mayor of San Francisco.
He recently answered a few questions about his career in the halls of power as well as important stories he has worked on for KQED News.
What was your path to radio and KQED?
In the early '90s, I was working for Gray Davis, who was state controller at the time. The host of Forum back then, Kevin Pursglove, took the opposite path I was on. He left radio for politics, becoming press secretary for San Jose mayor Susan Hammer.
I hadn't hosted a call-in radio show before, but when Pursglove left, I called KQED's news director—Raul Ramirez—and said I was interested in the job. He was skeptical, but invited me to guest host a couple of days. Ultimately I didn't get hired—Michael Krasny did—but it fed my desire to work in public radio.
A few years later, when I was a partner in a consulting firm, Raul called to ask if I was interested in applying to host The California Report. And the rest, as they say, is history.
How does your experience in government inform your reporting now?
Working in government was the best education I could get for covering government and politics. I worked in several campaigns, then as press secretary for San Francisco mayor Art Agnos and later Gray Davis. I was in the room when policy decisions were debated and decided. I was there when campaign strategies were devised and executed. I participated in damage control, crisis communications (I was deputy press secretary during the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989), and everyday management of the press.
Now that I'm on the outside looking in, I have a much keener sense of what's probably happening inside government and campaigns. I understand how decisions get made and the kinds of trade-offs involved. I think it just makes me a better journalist.
What's it been like reporting on Prop. 8—an issue that's stirred
such emotional reactions around the country?
In general I feel honored to be a journalist, because it means that people share their stories with me. I try to be respectful of that in my coverage. With Prop. 8, there's a lot of emotion and strong feelings on both sides. During the Prop. 8 campaign, I interviewed religious leaders, civil rights advocates, gay and lesbian couples with kids, and couples who hoped to get married one day. I try to respect all
those opinions and points of view in
Some people say that journalists have a liberal bias. I don't know if that's true, but I think everyone has a "bias" because we all have opinions. I try my best to keep my opinions private, even (or maybe especially) when covering something as emotional and polarizing as gay marriage.
The Prop. 8 campaign and ongoing legal battles are a part of history. I'm really glad to have a front row seat.
As host of The California Report newsmagazine,
you share stories and news from around the state. Is there a story that you've
found to be most memorable?
There have been so many, it's hard to pick one. But there is one that sticks out.
I decided to examine a fundamental argument for capital punishment, the idea that executions help victims of crime "move on." I spent time with a mother whose son was kidnapped and murdered by William Bonin, the so-called Freeway Killer. She later witnessed the perpetrator's execution. I'll never forget sitting in her kitchen in Norco, California, talking with her about that entire experience. I also interviewed a man whose boss was shot and killed by Robert Lee Massie, who was later executed for that crime. These conversations stay with you.
If a listener had the opportunity to talk with you in person, what
might he or she be surprised to learn?
That's hard to say. People tend to form images of what people they hear on the radio look like, so anything that contradicts that impression might be surprising. I guess they might be surprised to learn that I play water polo. Didn't play in high school or college, just picked it up 10 years ago. At the moment I'm the oldest guy on my team, but I think it helps keep me young!
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