It’s tough to match the rich variety of people and cultures we see in Stockton, says Kristen Go, recently appointed editor-in-chief of CalMatters, a non-profit news organization. Until she left it, Go said, she didn’t realize our city is unique.
“It was funny because one of my (college) friends was like, ‘Your high school was like the (United Nations)!’ And it really was, because it was incredibly diverse,” Go said. “The kinds of cultures and ethnicities that I was exposed to at a young age … I just thought that’s how the world was, until it wasn’t.”
She grew up in Stockton and attended Tokay High School in Lodi. At 17, she was named the top high school journalist of 1994.
Go lives in Walnut Creek with her husband, 12-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son. She said her older sister, Adrianne Go Miller, a teacher living in Stockton, sparked her interest in journalism.
“Her experience with the school newspaper looked fun,” Go said.
At first she didn’t see journalism as the career path for herself, Go said. Like her sister, it was fun in the beginning going to student-journalism conferences, being nosy and getting to ask lots of questions, she said.
“I was fortunate in that my high school (newspaper) adviser, Roger Woo, really encouraged us to tell stories,” she told Stocktonia. “Not just the kind of rah-rah stories, but things that really impacted students in high school.”
Among her early stories touching on heavy topics, she said, was one about a classmate who needed to be tested for AIDS because they were sexually assaulted. Covering a story like that at such a young age was instrumental to Go’s view of journalism, she said. Tokay’s journalism program allowed her to understand the power of storytelling.
Go said she loved writing for the Tokay student newspaper so much, she took summer school classes to complete general education courses since journalism was an elective.
After college, the University of Nevada-Reno graduate was part of the Denver Post’s 2000 Pulitzer Prize winning team for breaking news of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colorado, where two teens went on a shooting spree, killing 13 people and wounding more than 20 others.
“It’s tough to win for such a tragedy,” Go said.
At the time, she said, Go didn’t consider the magnitude of the Post’s reporting. Today, Go said, she doesn’t let one story define her career as she just happened to be at the right place at the right time to cover it with the team.
Last year, she was a member of a Pulitzer Prize finalist team again for another school-shooting tragedy, the Uvalde, Texas, killing of 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School.
Since her win in 2000, she has worked in newsroom and leadership roles across the American journalism community. Right before her move to CalMatters, Go was vice president and executive editor for news and initiatives for USA Today. The national newspaper is owned by Gannett Co., which is also the parent company of the Stockton Record, where Go started her professional journalism career while in high school.
During her time with the San Francisco Chronicle, Go led the charge to move the organization in a digital direction.
She has seen many changes to the journalism landscape, including the fall of print newspapers.
“What doesn’t change though,” she said, “is being able and having the ability to take a story or take an issue and boil it down, to make it accessible so that people can understand.”
Go told Stocktonia she doesn’t have a plan to use any specific platform to reach an audience; she only has a desire to provide information in any format so people can see for themselves how larger ideas play into their lives.
Crossing over from for-profit to nonprofit journalism, Go notes one main difference. The for-profit model, she said, heavily depends on audience reach, specifically, pageviews.
“At CalMatters, it’s not about pageviews; it’s about impact,” Go said,
She can measure story success by seeing how her reporters’ work changes statewide legislation, holds legislators accountable, and makes information accessible to readers.
Go is stepping into her new role so the former chief can continue building toward the organization’s initial aspirations, CalMatters CEO Neil Chase said in a phone interview.
Eight years ago, Dave Lesher, co-founder of CalMatters, served as both CEO and editor in chief. Over time, the work grew to be too big for one person to be in both roles, so Chase was appointed CEO in 2018, he told Stocktonia.
“By the time (Lesher) turned 65, he wanted to be out of the editor’s chair,” Chase said. Lesher is now leading CalMatter’s Accountability Desk, an arm of the investigative journalism team designed to track state legislation and send tips to local newsrooms across the state.
Because of this, the organization began searching for a new editor-in-chief. The process was standard, Chase said. Many people applied.
Chase reached out to Go specifically and told her he hoped she would apply.
With her expertise and reputation in leading large newsrooms, Go is the right person for CalMatters, Chase said. Her editorial and organizational skills are the perfect combo for their newsroom.
Together, the organization’s leaders are working to reach higher standards for more diverse accountability reporting at both local and state government levels by fostering young journalists, Go said. CalMatters offers paid college work opportunities and engages with high school programs across the state to help journalism programs ready their students for the field.
“I think that we’re in a much better place than we were when I started,” Go said about diversity in the industry.
When she first started out at the Denver Post, Go recalls she was the only Asian reporter in the newsroom. She overheard colleagues asking one another if she was a “diversity hire.”
She says not many news organizations can say they’re as diverse as CalMatters, but she still can see there is definitely room to grow.
“(Reporters at the Post) judged me based on my looks, not the body of my work. That’s always stuck with me,” she said. “The way you combat (lack of diversity in journalism) is by having people of all different backgrounds. And I’m not just talking about racial backgrounds, but ideological, gender and socioeconomic backgrounds as well.”