(This is the 20th 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 Bryan Baecker.
He’s 33, a Cleveland native, a University of Dayton graduate, served 12 years in the U.S. Army National Guard, lives in midtown and works as a director of loyalty and marketing for dunnhumby.
“We help companies with data-driven decision support,” he says. “We help them turn their data assets into a competitive advantage.”
He’s immersed in Big Data and, since moving here, has helped Raley’s launch the award-winning Something Extra loyalty program and the Try-It online advocacy platform.
Bryan is one of the many energized transplants I have met in 2015 as a part of this project. After reading my post on Laura Braden, he reached out on Twitter.
@journalistnate I am full of opinions, can’t get enough @NPR, and never shut up. Ask @laurabraden #LetsDoThis #SacOnTheMedia
— Bryan Baecker (@bryan_baecker) August 10, 2015
We met in September at Bike Dog Brewing Co. where, like many of my interviews, we talked less media about consumption and more about the city of Sacramento.
“I love Sacramento and I wanted to talk about it,” he says.
Bryan relocated from New York to Sacramento nearly four years ago when presented with the opportunity to “start the California office.” He describes Raley’s as the underdog “that deserves to survive.” It’s important to him to work with a local company that pays middle-class wages and, as someone who grew up poor, he can’t speak more highly of the Food for Families program.
He put down roots soon after coming to Sacramento. He bought and renovated a home, “loves the community” and has been thinking about how he can get involved. He has locally-inspired clothing line in the works.
“I find myself defending Sacramento a lot,” he says. “People are quick to say what Sacramento isn’t and not what Sacramento is.”
When friends visit from out-of-town, they come in with low expectations and leave with a great experience. They hike, see the river, bike around the grid and take in the farm-to-fork movement at local restaurants.
“There are so many things you can do in and around Sacramento,” he says. “Sacramento is the perfect mix of city, world-class destinations and great outdoor experiences.”
The city provides a lifestyle he values: bikeable, walkable and a great place for dogs. He says Sacramento is like a city in midwest and describes it as a more-affordable Denver.
“You can’t live in Denver like you can in Sacramento,” he says.
He’s thought a lot about many of Sacramento’s emerging issues. When he lived in Cincinnati, he served on a committee focused on attracting and engaging young professionals. The formative experience taught him how a city must develop for people of all classes. Focus on education before building more jails and hiring more cops, he says. Support experiences, like Portal, for people who don’t care about sports. Bring people here and keep them here.
Sacramento, he says, is positioned to develop in ways the Rust Belt has not.
“There’s a real sense that we want to make this city mean something,” he says.
He believes the conversation around the city needs to be less-centered on the Sacramento Kings. “The region has a lot more to offer.” He describes the railyards as an blank slate and considers it “embarrassing that our riverfront is not developed.”
“There’s a lot of opportunity here,” he says. “What can we do to make Sacramento great?”
Bryan answered the following questions by email about how he gets the news. Text submitted August 12.
How do you get your news?
The short answer is through osmosis. I think about knowledge in terms of reference frames which grow, in part, by taking in new information. Thus, I look everywhere for it.
I watch very little TV. My main source of news is Capital Public Radio, but I also get news from a variety of other sources such as social media, internet streaming to catch the The Daily Show and Google Alerts for daily/weekly updates on local news and companies I like to follow. I access quite a few news sources for business needs, such as The Sacramento Bee, Sacramento Magazine, Sactown Magazine, Fast Company, Wired and Harvard Business Review. In addition to those I have subscriptions to Kiplinger’s and Dwell.
If I do have to watch network news I prefer the BBC as they actually cover world events (yes, believe it or not things happen outside the US) and generally present more facts than opinions. Netflix helps fuel my addiction to documentaries.
What’s the first news event you remember?
I distinctly remember watching the end of apartheid in my middle school history class. The fanaticism of the regime in a post-Nazi world was both shocking and appalling. Subsequently, Nelson Mandela became a personal hero and traveling to South Africa last year for my brother’s wedding to a South African was life-changing. Not only did we visit Robben Island but we received a first-hand account from her uncle who had also been imprisoned there. Despite extensive travel in Europe and Asia this was the first time I noticed being the minority, which exposed subconscious prejudices that I was not aware I had. I felt guilty for the oppressive actions of Americans, South Africans, etc. because of the color of my skin. It took a few days before they subsided but it had such a profound impact on how I now view race issues. We have more work to do to reach gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. equality.
Another news event seared into my memory was watching the planes hit the twin towers. I was teaching at a school in Ohio at the time and not in uniform, but I remember feeling so many mixed emotions, from fear to fury. The one thing I knew for certain was that my decision to join the Army National Guard to pay for college was going to have very different repercussions.
What content do you pay for?
Not much. There is so much information available for free, I really only pay for the subscriptions I have to Kiplinger’s and Dwell as previously mentioned. Capital Public Radio is free but by donating I guess I pay for it. I think in order to garner real unbiased journalism, you have to omit the incentive for profits.
What’s the last great thing you ate?
A homemade blueberry crumble. I love to cook and had friends over for dinner but forgot to plan a dessert. I happened to have some fresh blueberries so I made a quick crumble and it turned out amazing. It was one of those moments that made me realize how fortunate we are in Sacramento to have such great access to real food. Our amazing farmer’s markets and local retailers like Raley’s really are second-to-none.
Who’s doing it right in news?
Jon Stewart –well at least he was. Simply put, we trusted him and through 16 years of consistent excellence he never let us down. In an era where you can’t even trust Brian Williams, John Stewart, who started out as just another middle-class white man telling us what was important and how we should feel about it, became a living legend. He was willing to do research to expose corporate greed, shady/corrupt politicians, and journalism’s lack of integrity in the public arena –and we loved him for it. I fear we will experience a content vacuum filled with more useless ‘news’ coverage and Kardashian drama.
Name the three most important issues facing Sacramento.
(1) City planning — We need cities to be designed like they were 100 years ago with elements of downtown-living: safe bike lanes, common space for arts and entertaining, exercising space for people and pets, affordable housing, etc. Furthermore, despite branding ourselves as the ‘Farm-to-Fork Capitol,’ food deserts remain all-over our city.
(2) Jobs — You know what brings young professionals to a city? Well-paying, creative jobs. I hear people ask all the time, ‘if you are not in government or a nurse in Sacramento, what do you do?’
(3) Civic pride — I’m tired of people badmouthing our amazing city. Even worse, I find the most egregious offenders are often people who grew up here and never left. I think there are two reasons for this. (1) Because they do not know what they like due to lack of diversity in their reference frame and (2) because we still have not found our identity.
We need to understand that there is more to the future of our city than pro-sports teams and the sooner we do the better. Our city is world-class and I long for the day when I no longer get crazy looks telling people I moved to Sacramento from NYC and turned down a chance to move to San Francisco in the process.
What do you absolutely hate about the news?
I think we have a huge perception problem with what news is in the United States. Long gone are the days where the prominent names like Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite were also trusted champions of the people. The fragmentation of journalism has happened so quickly. There are so many sources of information it is hard to translate and understand what is credible and what is just sensationalism. Furthermore, due to a lack of journalistic integrity on major “news” outlets, we now suffer from a polarized political climate in our country. Maybe I’m to idealistic, but Nancy Grace is not a journalist.
What’s the most important issue to you that’s not being covered well enough?
As we address climate change, personal accountability for our environment is being omitted from the discussion. I am not a hippy tree-hugger that drinks wheat grass and goes to drum circles in my free time (not that there is anything wrong with that). In fact, to the contrary… I have a Jeep, own more than one property and have more ‘stuff’ then I essentially need. However, I am still very conscious of my environmental impact. I ride my bike to and from work everyday (as well as anywhere else I can); I recycle, reduce and reuse; and constantly nag others to do the same, much to their chagrin. It feels like people pay lip service to sustainability while maintaining a “not in my backyard” attitude or that it is somebody else’s problem to solve.
Personal accountability is a big thing for me. People either make decisions or excuses. If everyone made small changes instead of excuses it would add up to a lot.
If you could be anywhere, an-hour-and-a-half drive away, where would you be?
If I HAD to chose ONLY ONE place, it would be the small house in Truckee that I have been renovating over the past year. It is walking distance to a very dog-friendly downtown where everywhere welcomes Hawk, my black lab, with open arms, treats, and a topped-up water bowl. Then it would be on to the breathtaking (literally and figuratively) mountain bike trails or Northstar with my snowboard.
Picking one would be hard though, I think people forget how many world class travel destinations are within a 90 minute drive of our great city –it may actually be one of Sacramento’s best kept secrets. Plus, you get all the benefits of living in one of the greatest places on Earth with great people, amazing food/wine, fantastic weather, bike friendly streets, and affordable housing.
I feel the most pride in my city when friends and family tell me how much they loved Sacramento despite having gone to Napa/Sonoma, San Francisco, Tahoe, etc. on their visit. That said, having a tour guide that loves our city so much probably makes a big difference.
Follow Bryan (@bryan_baecker) on Twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn.