Talking with Harry Harris of the East Bay Times

by Jackeline Luna

Harry Harris is considered one of the best crime and breaking news reporters in the country. He has covered more than 5,000 murders in Oakland, Calif., alone, and tens of thousands of crimes and murders in surrounding cities in his 52 years in the business.

In 1965, at 17, Harris began his career in journalism at the Oakland Tribune (now East Bay Times) as a copyboy before becoming a reporter. More than five decades later, he is nowhere near retiring. Just last April, Harris and his team won the Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of the deadly warehouse fire that killed 36 people.

At around 3:45 a.m. on Dec. 2, 2016, Harris received a call about a fire that broke out at the warehouse know as Ghost Ship. He was one of the first reporters on the scene and broke the story.

Reflecting on his long career, Harris said there’s nothing he would have liked to have done more.

“Sometimes, the stories you write about the victims might be the only nice thing that ever gets printed about them,” he said.

Here is what Harris had to say on other topics:

Harry Harris and Jackie Luna

On mentoring Chipsters and other young journalists:

When I first started out, older reporters helped me out, and I’ve always been grateful for that. I figured I’d pass it along. Some of the people I’ve mentored through the Chips Quinn program are still in journalism today. Of course, there’s always an ulterior motive, too. If I ever get fired, maybe somebody I know who is in a higher position will give me a job!

On the importance of diversity:

It’s important that newsrooms have a lot of different voices. The diversity helps our coverage of the community. It helps us tell complete stories. We still do important work, and the more different faces and voices of the community that we can have on our staff is not only going to help the paper but also help the community.

On his advice to a young reporter:

I’d say learn shorthand. Read newspapers, books. Read your local paper, magazines. Learn how people are doing the job that you might want to do. I learned a lot just by reading the stories of other people. Now I have my own style, but that took years (to develop).

On what has kept him in journalism:

Loyalty. My dad was a photographer for the Oakland Tribune in the 1930s before joining the Army. I also really enjoy what I’m doing. It’s one of the few professions you cannot say what you will be doing five minutes after you start work. I’ve seen this happen so many times. What I do is particularly sad but somebody’s got to do it. If you look past all the sadness, we still have the ability to help people with our stories.

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