The Oaklandside's community advisors. Top row from left: Danielle Thompson and Itzamar Carmona Felipe; Middle row from left: Maria Hoang and Marquita "Keta" Price; Bottom row from left: Victor Moreno, Reg Wooden, and Robbie Neely Credit: Amir Aziz

As The Oaklandside approaches its one-year anniversary (have you registered for next month’s celebration yet?), our newsroom is in the middle of a new program to assess how our journalism is living up to the founding values we set in collaboration with Oaklanders from the start. 

Our pilot Mission Metrics initiative, developed with support from the San Francisco Foundation, is a way for us to get direct community feedback, evaluate the impact of our reporting, and identify ways we can better reach and serve more Oaklanders. 

At the heart of the program is a group of paid community advisors who we’ve asked to follow our work and provide input on how we can improve. Today, we’re excited to introduce you to this inaugural group, tell you more about our recruiting process, and explain how we’re working together.

How we selected our community advisors

Before we began searching for people to join our first cohort of community advisors, we met as a staff to identify the key criteria we would use to guide our outreach. We determined a couple of things early on: We would bring on seven advisors total for this first round, one person representing each City Council district. And we agreed the group would need to be representative of Oakland – or as representative as seven people could be in a city this diverse. 

We wanted to work with advisors who weren’t already familiar with The Oaklandside, and who could help us reach new audiences. And to avoid any conflicts of interest, we sought to avoid people in positions of leadership at organizations, businesses, or institutions, which we may need to report on.

To ensure diversity, we decided on several criteria: We wanted a range of ages, including at least one person under 25; different education backgrounds and occupations; at least one person who brought experience as an immigrant; diversity among race, gender, and sexuality; and at least one parent. And for this first round, we wanted to work with people who’d been living in the city for awhile—at least 10 years. 

Once we were ready to begin our search, we reached out to about two dozen leaders and organizers across the city who are deeply embedded in their communities—people like Andrew Park, Alvina Wong, Seneca Scott, Randolph Belle, Cathy Leonard, Mariano Contreras, Gabriela Galicia, Courtney Martin, Stanley Pun, Mari Rose Taruc, Jake Schoneker, John Jones III, Itzel Diaz, Jamaica Sowell, and David Peters—who were instrumental in this process and kindly referred people to us who they thought would be interested. 

Introducing The Oaklandisde’s first cohort of community advisors

In all, we had conversations with about 20 people—at least two per district— who were interested in being a community advisor to The Oaklandside. They included parents, nurses, advocates, educators, storytellers, artists, and more. And last month, we selected our first, seven-member advisory cohort, which we’ll be working with through mid-June. We’re delighted to introduce them here:

Danielle Thompson Credit: Amir Aziz

Danielle Thompson, our District 1 advisor, lives on the border of Oakland and Emeryville and grew up in Westlake. As a member of Youth Beat, she produced Displaced, a film about young people from Oakland whose families were pushed out of the city by gentrification. She is a graduate of Cal State East Bay, where she majored in communications. 

Maria Hoang Credit: Amir Aziz

Maria Hoang, our District 2 advisor, currently lives with her grandfather and uncle in the Rancho San Antonio neighborhood. Maria is a proud graduate of Oakland’s public school system with an interest in community organizing, access to education and public health. Maria enjoys eating at local restaurants and getting together with family and friends.

Itzamar Carmona Felipe Credit: Amir Aziz

Itzamar Carmona Felipe, our District 3 advisor, lives with their family in West Oakland. They were born in Guerrero, Mexico and have lived the majority of their life in West Oakland after migrating to California. They currently work at a local nonprofit focused on education equity and youth organizing. In their free time, they enjoy writing, reading and watching anime.

Robbie Neely Credit: Amir Aziz

Robbie Neely, our District 4 advisor, has lived all around the Bay Area since she was 2, but settled finally in Oakland in 1977. She is executive director of Piedmont Pines Neighborhood Association, which serves 1,400 homes in the Montclair area. She graduated from San Jose State with a degree in journalism and then spent 27 years in telecommunications, mostly in public relations. Her passion: Getting communities and neighborhoods to organize more effectively to prevent crime, prepare for emergencies, and have a louder voice with civic decision makers on issues that affect quality of life.

Victor Moreno Credit: Amir Aziz

Victor Moreno, our District 5 advisor, lives in Fruitvale and works for a company that produces plant-based meat alternatives. Originally from Mexico, he has been in Oakland for more than a decade and volunteers with community organizations including Street Level Health Project, Oakland Public Library and La Clínica de la Raza. 

Reg Wooden Credit: Amir Aziz

Reg Wooden, our District 6 advisor, lives in Leona Heights Park. Born and raised in Oakland (his time in the East Bay includes a proud four-year stint in Richmond in the early 1980s), he is a self-proclaimed Oakland history nut who collects books on the subject. During his off days from his job working for BART, Reg enjoys hanging with his 13-year-old son, working on his golf game, and riding in his classic Cadillac. 

Marquita “Keta” Price Credit: Amir Aziz

Marquita “Keta” Price, our District 7 advisor, is a third-generation East Oakland native. Also known as “The Hood Planner,” Keta serves as the director of urban and regional planning for the East Oakland Collective, where she is the lead on several East Oakland neighborhood and transportation projects, participates in the development of regional planning, and holds the city of Oakland accountable to equitable zoning and land use in East Oakland. Keta’s formal passion for urbanism stems from her recreational research on how gentrification has impacted low-income Black neighborhoods. Keta has an Associates of Mathematics and Natural Science degree from Merritt College, home of the Black Panthers.

How we’re working with our community advisors

Each week, we send this group three articles that our staff published the week before, and have them share feedback with us using an online form that asks which, if any, of our core values the story lives up to, and how. We also ask what they find useful about the story, how we could make it stronger, and what questions they have after reading.

Our staff has access to all of the feedback that advisors provide, and we also compile a set of overall takeaways from their input each week, which is shared with both Oaklandside staff and advisors for full transparency. We’re also hosting two group conversations over the course of the two-month program, with the full advisory cohort and our staff, to get to know each other and generate ideas about how our work can reach and better serve more people in our city. 

We’re already learning so much from this group, from practical advice on how helpful it is for us to thread links and highlight relevant resources in our stories, to bigger needs like how we can regularly weave more Oakland history into our reporting to contextualize current events.

Since this is a pilot program, we’re also getting advisors’ thoughts on our overall process and how we can best work with community members to hold us accountable and make our work stronger. We hope to continue this program in the future and will assess what works and what we can improve for the next round. 

We’ll publish a report with overall takeaways from our Mission Metrics program, what we’re learning, and how we’re planning to respond as a newsroom, so stay tuned for that in the coming weeks.

Cole Goins is a contributing editor for community engagement to The Oaklandside. A media consultant, organizer and facilitator, he serves as the engagement lead for The New School's Journalism + Design program, and has led a variety of trainings, events and community-based journalism initiatives with organizations such as the American Press Institute, the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University, and the Poynter Institute. He spent a decade in nonprofit investigative journalism, first as the engagement editor at the Center for Public Integrity, and most recently as the director of community engagement at Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting.