People of Sacramento commenting on the news: Colin Sueyres

Colin Sueyres, director at Mercury
Colin Sueyres, director at Mercury. Photo: Kevin Fiscus.

(This is the 12th installment in a weekly series with people who don’t work in journalism commenting on the news. Photography by Kevin Fiscus. If you’d like to participate, message or tweet me.)

Meet Colin Sueyres.

He’s 32, a Stockton native, a University of California, Berkeley, graduate, lives in east Sacramento and is a director at Mercury Public Affairs.

Colin has worked at the Capitol since he was in college and describes his current job as “trying to get something built or trying to get something passed” at the state or local level.

He’s a wonk, an obsessive reader and “admittedly a weirdo” who values the Fourth Estate’s role in providing a check on power outside of government.

“For most people, news is a commodity; to me, it’s a craft,” he says.

We met in July at the Kupros Craft House to talk about media consumption, the city of Sacramento and his thoughts on the news.

Colin is as passionate about journalism as anyone I have met in this project and, like the many who care so deeply, is shaped by his own experience in news. He started as a double major in political science and communications at Cal, worked as a stringer for The Daily Californian during his freshman year and expected attend the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University on the path to a long career as a reporter.

He recalls, as the Berkeley city government reporter, being sent to cover a discussion on the construction of an 8-story building. The people who lived in the city were in support of it; the people who lived in the hills were against it. He can remember how a planning commissioner tuned them out during public comment, and slowly unwrapped and ate hard candy before nodding off.

He wondered: do I want to be covering meetings for the next 10 years?

Then, 9/11 happened and he decided to focus on public policy.

It hasn’t shaken his interest in the industry and he stresses the importance of good people doing good work. He wants to be able to understand an issue deeply and then be able to reflect on it concisely to clients. “I like getting to the core of a story,” he says.

Many of his concerns reflect an understanding of the challenges and opportunities presented by the internet. He wonders why more outlets haven’t gone online-only and why there haven’t been more local startups. He worries the economic downturn sent too many talented, young journalists to other fields or to the few outlets with money to spend.

He has an appetite for data journalism and investigative journalism. When journalists ask the right questions and request the right documents, he says, they can set in motion a series of events that can cause positive change in bureaucracy.

“That’s why journalism is so important,” he says.

Most people, he says, aren’t going to ask those questions on their own; they’re more concerned with working hard and providing for their family. If media can capture their attention and make them justifiably angry, the public becomes empowered.

“It all starts with civic engagement,” he says. “You have to be involved in conversations on a local level.”

Colin answered the following questions by email about how he gets the news. Text submitted May 20.

How do you get your news?
I get my news from wherever I can find it — although it’s almost exclusively digital these days. News aggregators like Rough & Tumble, Politico, Capitol Morning Report, The Nooner, Drudge Report and other similar resources are great for getting a taste of everything going on and very useful if I don’t want to pore over a particular outlet. I also subscribe to the RSS feeds of the AP, Reuters, NPR, CNN and The New York Times; regularly read blogs in the Gawker, Vox and BuzzFeed media families; check Reddit a couple of times a day; and follow the Twitter feeds of journos and outlets.

What’s the first news event you remember?
The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. I distinctly remember my parents keeping me up late into the evening and showing me the news with this mass of people standing around the wall and swinging sledgehammers. I didn’t understand the context in any way, but I understood — based on the reaction from my folks and the tone of the coverage — that this was a “big event” and that I was watching something important take place. Part of the reason I was able to remember it so well was probably also due to the little kid reaction of “I get to stay up late? I should pay attention and figure out how to do this again!”

 

What content do you pay for?
Luckily thanks to my firm, most of my daily news content (Los Angeles Times, NYT, The Sacramento Bee, San Francisco Chronicle, The Wall Street Journal, etc.) has already been paid for or is ad-supported. Beyond the dailies, I’ll occasionally buy hard copies of the Bee and Sacramento Magazine to pour over on the weekend, give to Capital Public Radio, and subscribe to magazines as disparate as BeerAdvocate and The Economist.

What’s the last great thing you ate?
That’s a tough call. The nice thing about living in Sacramento is that there is an abundance of wonderful restaurants. But if I had to choose one recent thing, it would be the Whiskey Burger at Formoli’s Bistro. Aimal Formoli makes the single best burger in Sacramento — and that’s against very tough competition.

Who’s doing it right in news?
I’m really enjoying the return of long-form and in-depth investigation pieces that the internet has made room for. Without needing to budget for column inches, you’re really only limited by interest in the topic and funding for the writer and editor. ProPublica has been doing great, consistently excellent pieces over the last several years.

In addition, I love that the “USA Today effect” has been turned on its head by the internet. Thanks to interactive graphics and data sets, WSJ and the NY Times has been improving its coverage of stories rather than limiting them because of limited space to publish.

I also love that VICE has become this clearinghouse of really detailed, nuanced reporting on complicated stories around the globe. And SB Nation probably has my absolutely favorite collection of writers of any outlet — news, sports, whatever — in the country (Spencer Hall, Jon Bois, Matt Ufford, Jason Kirk and Bill Connelly, among others).

Name the three most important issues facing Sacramento.
(1) Housing — Not the building of new housing out in the suburbs (though that has a place), but the continued redevelopment of infill properties throughout the central city grid that encourages more families to locate closer to the grid. It benefits the community, supports a livable urban center, and encourages better transit development.

(2) Continuing to build diversity — This is tied somewhat to the first point. Diversity, in employment, demographics, culture, and on and on, is part of the reason Sacramento is as great a community as it is. Having available housing on the central grid makes housing more affordable; more affordable housing allows a wider diversity of residents with different employment and backgrounds to commingle together. Sacramento should never become a single industry town.

(3) Finding our own identity — I appreciate the comparisons to Oakland, Portland and Austin, but Sacramento is at the point that we should ignore the comparisons and create our own identity. While there are aspects of many cities that we should incorporate (we have amazing weather — would it kill us to have a few more rooftop restaurants and bars?), I would hate for us to push all of our chips into any particular city ideal.

What do you absolutely hate about the news?
Navel-gazing. Process stories when a policy story would be better. Writing to fill column inches on a controversial topic. I know reporters are working stiffs the same as everyone else, but the writing-just-to-file bothers me because of the importance of reporting.

What’s the most important issue to you that’s not being covered well enough?The massive regulations that state departments and agencies dole out, while being nearly independent from the Legislature and governor. These bureaucracies wield significant authority, derived from executive and legislative powers, but are almost to the point that they are their own fiefdoms. Unless there’s negative news coverage that spurs action in any of the branches of state government, they operate almost free of oversight by the public.

While things around the state Capitol are heavily covered, the regulatory action taken at the agency or department level has a much more significant impact on the daily lives of California residents. The average person doesn’t realize, in part because of the dearth of news coverage, how many decisions made by an unelected body affects them personally, right or wrong.

If you could be anywhere, an-hour-and-a-half drive away, where would you be?
West shore of Lake Tahoe. (I’d drive fast.)


Follow Colin (@Sueyres) on Twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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