On Seven Years in Silicon Valley

Seven years. It’s difficult to say just how much my life has changed in that period of time. A cursory search tells me that the body replaces most of its cells every seven to 10 years, while long-dead Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner posited that a person changes in spiritual relation to the universe in seven-year intervals. Science and the stars have never been my strongest subjects, so I’ll instead focus on the things I know.

I know I owe a great debt to Metro, the South Bay’s alternative weekly newspaper and parent company of San Jose Inside. The tab grows more unwieldy when I think of the support I’ve received from family, friends and colleagues, as well as sources who have entrusted me with information, sometimes at great personal risk. And then there’s you, the reader.

As a rule, second-person voice is generally verboten on these pages and those of Metro’s recycled stock, but I feel compelled to extend my gratitude to the people who supported our mission: to tell the unvarnished stories of Silicon Valley, as best we could, and bring comfort to the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. That’s a heady task for, essentially, a newsroom of two.

When I started working for Metro in the first week of 2011, I was sleeping in a converted garage that didn’t have a window to hint the hour of the day. I drove an old purple Cadillac DeVille and wrote stories with my only other possession of disputable value, a laptop computer dense enough to sink a writer in the Dead Sea. I had less than a year experience covering hard news and had never heard of most of the region’s political players, let alone read a council agenda. All I had was an opportunity, a few people who believed in me and the freedom to choose almost any story that sparked an interest.

Today—seven years to the day San Jose Inside published my first story on a rogue anti-cannabis prosecutor; times have certainly changed—I’m here to file my final report, as I will be joining the San Francisco Chronicle.

My life has transformed for the better in so many ways over the last seven years, even if I had to get rid of the Cadillac. I can now make rent on a real apartment in one of the most absurd housing markets in the world, and I even cover the interest on my debts. Around the same time I was promoted from staff writer to news editor, before becoming managing editor, Metro’s last full-time photographer introduced me to a woman who laughed at my jokes but took me seriously enough to become my wife. I developed my voice as a writer, painfully at times, while telling the real stories of real people in Silicon Valley, a place I’ve called home for the better part of 35 years but never really knew until Metro gave me a byline.

I’ve been blessed to form friendships with many of the people who create, and are featured in, the pages of Metro, an alternative voice in a valley too often lacking in humor and empathy—two things that will be required to truly save the world. The last seven years have also forced me to check my own preconceptions and privileges in ways that will continue.

In my time with the paper, the news department has tried to give a voice to underdogs over sacrosanct disrupters while pulling back the curtain on the work of local government, from policymakers and political hucksters to local media and law enforcement. This has led to more than a few awkward encounters.

Elected officials have ignored my presence while I asked questions a few feet from their face. Several press flacks have called me … difficult. I’ve been thrown out of election night parties and a clench-fisted bureaucrat once seemed poised to punch me at a City Hall retirement party; instead he looked me up and down, finished his drink and advised me to watch my waistline. One of my favorite stories comes from my first year with Metro, when a San Jose police union spokesman mistakenly took me for a plain-clothes officer. He started our meeting by telling me to try on his blazer. Before I could tell him I was a journalist he launched into the talking points that cops were feeding to reporters  during the city’s pension battle. The spokesman would later go on to run a labor-directed attack blog that photoshopped my face onto silly cartoons.

I could be wrong—and I’m sure the benevolent commenters who frequent this site will find no fault in this assessment—but I honestly believe Metro and San Jose Inside’s journalism these last seven years has had a greater impact than any of our South Bay media peers, including the daily paper of record, which, like too many outlets across the country, is suffering an unfortunate loss of institutional knowledge in a time when we need more talented journalists, not less.

A running newsroom joke at Metro was to create a Wall of Fame for the people who have been investigated, fired or banished—by bureaucracy, the ballot box, resignation or the criminal justice system—as a result of our work. It would have been tacky, not just in the way that some people’s hallways have too many photos and no matching frames. But an abbreviated list of those brought to account includes: the president of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors; an eight-term congressman; the CEO of the Santa Clara Valley Water District; the schools chief for Santa Clara County and his dodgy spokesman; most of the folks in charge of the city of Santa Clara; the Milpitas city manager; the head of interpreters for the county’s Superior Court; and a scandal-plagued state Assembly member and her 5th Amendment-invoking councilman brother.

Metro and San Jose Inside can also be credited with changing more public policies than I can count, in part because a snooping reporter can occasionally scuttle the worst-laid plans with a phone call and a few probing questions. I’m especially proud of the policies we’ve had a hand in reversing or improving in regards to transparency and the expenditure of taxpayer money. Awards are nice, and we’ve won a few, but there’s nothing better in this line of work than finding a scoop after digging through a mountain of data, using a person’s own words to show the cravenness of their agenda, or simply receiving a kind letter from a reader.

Never underestimate how much the occasional kind word can sustain journalists, who by and large are overworked, underpaid and ever increasingly attacked for nothing more than presenting inconvenient truths. Growing claims of fake news, a two-word propaganda tool that equates isolated errors with ulterior motive, have put hard-working reporters in the uncomfortable position of not only gathering the news, but also having to defend information as if facts can alternate like tag-team grapplers.

We have certainly made errors along the way, but in the pursuit of truth, or the thing that most closely resembles it, which has never been a tidy undertaking. As reporters know, the finished product of a story rarely resembles the initial outline of an assignment, and  accepting that result separates activism from a journalistic account.

I have to thank Dan Pulcrano, Metro’s executive editor, who gave me a chance to write and then let me run (mostly) wild. I’ll miss working with Jennifer Wadsworth, an exceptionally talented journalist who has quickly become Silicon Valley’s best storyteller and will continue to rattle cages; A&E editor Nick Veronin, an excellent music writer with an unparalleled mane of hair; and the many brilliant people who have contributed stories and worked behind the scenes to build the paper (Sean George, Kathy Manlapaz), take the photographs (Greg Ramar), create the art (Kara Brown) and sell the ads (John Haugh and his team) that have sustained our editorial mission.

Seven years is a fair amount of time, longer than I’ve spent in any one place in my life,  and it’s a cycle that can stand on its own. The next chapter awaits.

Thanks for reading.

Josh Koehn is a former managing editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley.

48 Comments

  1. I had my first web page through, was it livewire? i also went to school; with few of your writer’s (smith,singh many others) I think while @spartan shops/sjsu i used my advertising dollar and relied on the music pages and stories….. thank you for a real good time.

  2. > Growing claims of fake news, a two-word propaganda tool that equates isolated errors with ulterior motive, have put hard-working reporters in the uncomfortable position of not only gathering the news, but also having to defend information as if facts can alternate like tag-team grapplers.

    The progressive establishment HATES HATES HATES the term “fake news” because it questions their primacy in crafting “the public narrative”.

    “Fake news” is a construct that is extremely value to news consumers because it is a constant reminder of the synthetic, fallible, human genesis of the “narratives” that are represented as being “the news”.

    If the term “fake news” hurts the feeling of “journalists”, well, good.

    Hopefully, the end result will be a “twinge of conscience” that will unsettle journalists when they put pen to paper and encourage them to be more “truth tellers” ( the truth, the WHOLE truth, and nothing but the truth) and less “outcome-shaping” story tellers.

    • Booble – The only thing worse than the “fake news” that was invented by devious right-wing propagandists is “fake people” like yourself idiotically pontificating about it ! Why don’t you move on to the Chronicle as well ? Oh yeah that’s right,they wouldn’t dignify your comments by printing them because they have higher journalistic standards & a modicum of decency sorely lacking herein. Whether Josh goes to San Francisco or goes to hell,I say good riddance & don’t let the door hit you where the good lord split you !!!

  3. Congrats Josh. I have enjoyed working with you and have long appreciated your voice in the Valley.

    • ^^This comment, by this person, confirms what many readers previously thought of this publication.

      You’re judged by the company you meet Josh.

    • Pete, you still collecting a bogus retirement while going on the national news, stabbing those in the back paying for it?

  4. Thanks, Josh, for sharing your voice with us these past 7 years. SJ’s loss will be SF’s gain.

  5. As one of the snarling predators who feasted during the frenzies, my thanks to Josh for so generously chumming the waters.

    • Here’s hoping his departure gives you a warm feeling Inside,because as we all know it’s a steaming heap on your chest that gives you a warm feeling outside ! I support Dreamers & you enjoy Steamers,so let the readers decide which one of us is a decent human being & which one is a pervert wallowing in debauchery, You & your racist hero Donald Trump sure have a lot in common,including your unhealthy fascination with & first hand knowledge of foreign “s***holes”. Believe me,because I’m a genius ! LMAO

      • > Believe me,because I’m a genius !

        Waxy:

        I’ve been thinking some judgemental thoughts respecting your genius.

        Would you rather that I judge you by the color of your skin, or by the content of your character?

        By the way, what IS the color of your skin? Is your skin color the typical skin color for geniuses?

        • Geniuses come in many colors,racists like yourself not so many. I judge people by their intellectual prowess,maybe your mother can explain that concept to you. “Believe me I’m the least racist person ever” – Donald Trump. You’re not very bright,the only time you know squat is when you & Finfan have another romantic interlude.

          • > Geniuses come in many colors,racists like yourself not so many.

            So, Waxmania, what colors do racists come in?

            And, how did you become an expert in racism?

      • “… so let the readers decide which one of us is a decent human being & which one is a pervert wallowing in debauchery…”

        How predictable and pathetic that Herb Waxman’s self-image hinges on the opinions of a group of strangers he assumes share his values. Why this is — was it his mother’s failure to nurture him or simply her inability to hide her disdain for her defective child, I couldn’t say. His emotional needs grow more apparent with his every post.

        • Careful there finfan. You know what happens with His Waxiness whenever you bring up the subject of his relationship with his mother. It’s obviously a sore subject with him and is likely to prompt one of his patented temper tantrums and the spewing of his oral earwax all over the internet. Who needs that? It’s disgusting.

          • > You know what happens with His Waxiness whenever you bring up the subject of his relationship with his mother. It’s obviously a sore subject with him and is likely to prompt one of his patented temper tantrums . . . .

            Excellent insight, Galtus.

            Perhaps we have all been too thoughtless and insensitive regarding the pain and tribulation that Mrs. Waxman likely endured over her life.

            Just think about that cruel speculations people must have engaged in regarding her flawed maternal instincts or poor child rearing abilities. Did she feed him nutritionally deficient diet? Did she potty train him too early or too late? Did she drop him on his head? Did she name him Herbert out of hatred for Herbert Hoover?

            San Jose is a tolerant and caring community, and in the spirit of compassion maybe we should just be more considerate in helping Herbert and his mother work through their issues.

          • Thanks once again for recognizing my vastly superior intellect,the fact that an overwhelming majority of South Bay voters concur with my liberal viewpoint speaks for itself. The small & dwindling number of powerless marginalized intolerant cuckolds (Booble,EmptyGums,FlimFlam,Galt-Right) constant pissing & moaning neither sways nor impresses anyone. Completely bereft of any political clout they continue to soldier on by smugly displaying their predictable anger & ignorance one comment at a time. It’s said that women don’t dress to impress men,but dress to impress other women. The same can be said for these verbose & despicable imbeciles whose unhinged comments could only impress one another. Egged on by other like-minded morons,they’re under the misimpression that they have something important to say & an attentive audience. Nothing could be further from the truth ! If they weren’t such a hilarious caricature of every known pompous right-wing yokel,reading their comments would be a complete waste of everyone’s time ! PS – John your mother is so fat that the last time I saw her I rolled over three times & I was still on her !!!

          • “… an overwhelming majority of South Bay voters concur with my liberal viewpoint speaks for itself.”

            “… bereft of any political clout they continue to soldier on…”

            Herb Waxman can’t help but reveal himself in his posts, and here he again reveals just how deeply entrenched he is in the herd. On a site that generously allows individuals to exchange opinions, barbs, even insults, he continually demonstrates how desperately he needs to bolster his position (and himself) by referencing the local like-minded majority. This is the mark of a weak-minded, insecure individual, the type of person who spent his formative years alternately resenting, fearing, and admiring the boys who were confident about themselves, with or without the approval of others. In fact, the idea of carrying on without widespread support is so foreign to his cowardly thinking that he equates bold individualism with madness.

            Suffice it to say, history documents no Waxman who ever marched into hell for a heavenly cause.

  6. Oh Josh, I’m getting all misty eyed, I too have enjoyed commenting on your comments.
    The sad reality of today’s American journalist is, they have a trust rating even lower than congress and used car salesman.
    Work on looking at both side on an issue.

  7. It’s probably better for your career to get a few years working for a newspaper not supported by ads for pot clubs and prostitu**** *COUGH* I mean masseuses. Good luck out there Mr Koehn, I plan on reading your future ramblings.

  8. Best of luck and good wishes!!! Congratulations on the new gig, I’m sure you will do well and make change for the better!!

  9. All of your accomplishments are overshadowed by the fact that you are complicit in the cover-up of collusion between San Jose city officials (Mayor Sam Liccardo, the City Council and City Attorney’s Office) and the federal courts (the US District Court and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals) to obstruct justice during the litigation of two lawsuits I filed against the City for discrimination based on my race and disability. I’m black/African American. You were quick to refer to President Trump as the “fleshy KKK,” while refusing to report on the flagrantly bigoted treatment I received at the hands of the City and the courts that was akin to how black voting rights activists were treated by Bull Connor in the sixties. City officials and the federal courts committed several felonies relating to public corruption; including bribery, fraud, and perjury. The evidence is indisputable and overwhelming. You and much of the media in the South Bay are not objective journalists because you acted cowardly by refusing to report on this scandal based on evidence I presented. You are indeed ‘FAKE NEWS.” You claim to be so concerned about racism when it comes to the police and the President. Yet you cover up the bigotry and criminal misconduct of the City and federal courts. Do not flatter yourself Mr. Koehn. See my blog:http://crnctz.blogspot.com/2015/08/exposing-cover-up-of-cheating-scandal.html that provide details.
    Fred Bates retired SJPD

  10. Best of luck Josh. I’ve enjoyed reading your work.

    David Cohen
    Co-founder, and former Publisher, Metro Newspapers

  11. Good luck, Josh. I really enjoy reading your material. Also, thanks for printing my opinion pieces.

  12. Josh, you will be missed. I get the San Francisco Chronicle delivered daily (still like reading newsprint). It is a fabulous paper with a much larger editorial hole than anything we see in the South Bay — much more news, opinion, columnists, arts coverage, etc. Look forward to seeing your byline in the Chron. Scott Knies, San Jose Downtown Association

  13. So long and congratulations!
    I’m sure the negative condescending internet trolls will especially miss you at SJI.

  14. Very sorry to see you go—and just when a certain water company, already known for its lavish payouts to a network of executives and contractors, has announced yet another enormous rate hike. Coincidence? I think not!

  15. > If they weren’t such a hilarious caricature of every known pompous right-wing yokel,reading their comments would be a complete waste of everyone’s time !

    Thanks for pointing this out, Waxy.

    You had to read it, though, to point it out. Right? Or did you have someone read it for you.

    To borrow a line from Rush . . . “Living rent free in Waxy’s head”.

    (It’s kind of dark, and there’s not much furniture.)

  16. > This is the mark of a weak-minded, insecure individual, the type of person who spent his formative years alternately resenting, fearing, and admiring the boys who were confident about themselves, with or without the approval of others.

    Excellent insight, Finny.

    Waxy might be a textbook case of what happens to a red diaper baby who gets an overdose of man-hating “self-esteem” from the gender tribalists of the failing public school system.

    I predict that Waxy’s recovery will take decades, if it’s even possible at all. And, it isn’t going to be cheap for the taxpayers.

    Maybe if the treatment center can get his ritalin dosage up they can at least make him harmless.

    • > What a hypocrite ! It’s a well known fact that you’ve been a vocal flack for pot clubs & Carly’s never rubbed me the wrong way !!!

      Ya he’s a real class act bringing my wife’s name into this. What does he want me to do? Get huffy? Meh, he’s not even worth the effort. (BTW Waxie, pot is legal now according to state law, prostitution, not so much)

      • When you foul-mouthed cowards started talking about my mother,every one of your relatives became fair game. At least you’re man enough to use your given name. The other pussies wouldn’t have the balls to say such these things to me in face to face,because they’d be sucking their meals through a straw for the next six months. It’s just a shame that you have chosen to encourage & applaud their abhorrent behavior time & time again The truth is that I’m actually quite fond of your lovely wife Carly ! I’m sure she’s a fine woman & a wonderful mother to your children. Do they have any idea who their real father is ? Do you ? BTW Mikey Robby I’m well aware of each & every state law pertaining to marijuana,in fact I’m far more knowledgeable on the subject than most. Just keep in mind that you’re the one who introduced prostitution into this conversation twice & apparently everyone knows it’s illegal here in California,but you. Q: Do you ever have anything intelligent to add to the conversation ? A:Obviously,not so much !

  17. Have you ever noticed that it’s the same half-dozen contrarian windbags who dominate the comments at SJI by encouraging each others abhorrent behavior & then applauding it ? Left unchallenged one might get the impression that they’re the spokesmen for a much larger group of those unable or unwilling to speak their minds. Nope,it’s just the same handful of unhinged knuckleheads insulting our intelligence ad infinitum. Collectively their IQ’s barely approach room temperature & unable to defend themselves or their ill-conceived viewpoints,they attack the messenger & their imaginary adversaries instead. As their hero Hair Furor replied when asked who hacked the DNC – “Are they Russians ? Could be the Chinese ? No one knows for sure ! It could be one four hundred pound guy sitting on his bed with a computer” ! That’s my guess,none of these obnoxioius right-wing nitwits actually exist ! It’s just one pathetic four hundred pound loser sitting on his bed perpetrating an elaborate hoax on the most gullible readers. When you keep in mind that when he’s not pulling our legs,he’s likely pulling his short pudgy pud it sort of puts it all in the proper perspective. This motley cast of vulgar characters must be a figment of one disturbed individuals twisted imagination,because it’s 2018 & to believe otherwise is too unconceivable to possibly be true. One big fat guy with six personalities & all of them evil,all clamoring for the psychiatrists attention on a heavily reinforced couch. Reality ? Or the makings of a really bad FOX reality TV show ?

    • > Have you ever noticed that it’s the same half-dozen contrarian windbags who dominate the comments at SJI by encouraging each others abhorrent behavior & then applauding it ?

      We tried dominating CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, Washington Post, Murky Gnu’s, Daily Kos, MoveOn.org, The Left Hook, etc, etc., but SJI is the ONLY venue that will tolerate us.

      We’re banned everywhere else.

      If SJI causes you emotional distress, you might put SJI on your banned websites list and spend more quality time with MSNBC, your blankie, and your stuffed animals.

    • > contrarian windbags

      I like it, Waxy.

      Could be my nom de plume somewhere some day.

      Do I owe you a royalty payment or anything?

    • When viewed out of context, Herb Waxman’s theory about SJI’s conservative posters, stupid as it may be, falls far short of being alarming. As a delusion, his belief that his least favorite dozen or half-dozen posters don’t actually exist ranks no higher on the lunatic scale than the harmless afflictions of a hoarder or agoraphobic. But when placed within the context of national politics, where the very same conservative perspective he rejects as fraudulent and conspiratorial won the presidency and both houses of congress, then Waxman’s mental illness must be viewed as gravely disabling; perhaps even dangerous. After all, once convinced that “they’re all fake,” it’s only a matter of time before he convinces himself of the identity of the evil mastermind behind it all.

      At the very least, the authorities should make certain that Herb Waxman is disarmed.

      • Four or five commenters must really all be just one person?
        We’ll I think “Waxman” must really be four or five people. After all, how could one person be such a gigantic asshole all by himself?

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