For Rong-Gong Lin II, journalism began as an excuse to ask important people a lot of questions. After almost 18 years of reporting for the Los Angeles Times, however, it has become so much more.
Lin began his journalism career publishing exposes on the poor state of his high school’s bathrooms. As the younger sibling of UC Berkeley students, Lin would visit campus and pick up a copy of The Daily Californian. Even in high school, Lin knew the paper was something he wanted to be a part of, and he joined the news department in his first semester on campus.
“(I covered) ASUC, which I thought was one of the greatest beats ever. … It’s such an insular thing, and all of the ASUC people are just hyperaware of what you’re writing about,” Lin said. “Clearly you make a difference.”
After a stint covering Berkeley’s City Council, Lin pivoted to editing and eventually became the publication’s university news editor. During his time as an editor, Lin saw firsthand that the Daily Cal’s reporting could impact on the community, helping to shape public discourse around things such as local elections and raise issues as they are presented. This, among other motivations, prompted Lin to run for editor in chief and president of the paper in 2002.
“I just thought it would be so cool to make that difference and run an independent business that has a public mission of informing people,” Lin said. “There would be nothing that can really rival that experience.”
Lin also figured this position would be his last “hurrah” as a journalist, given that he was on the premed track. However, after interning for the editorial pages of The Washington Post and the LA Times, Lin decided to give journalism a shot.
“When I had those internships, it was just so much fun, and it was clear that I had a lot of passion for it,” Lin said. “I felt like I owed it to myself to try to do something that I really enjoyed, that I had a lot of passion for — and if it didn’t work it didn’t work out, I could always try something else.”
Lin has not regretted his decision. After spending two years as a fellow in the the LA Times’ Minority Editorial Training Program, Lin was selected to stay on staff. He has worked there ever since, covering everything from public health issues to natural disasters and earthquake safety. In 2017, Lin covered an earthquake in Mexico City at the site of a collapsed building.
The structural issue that contributed to the building’s collapse was one Lin had reported on before. A few years earlier, Lin and two colleagues investigated concrete buildings that could potentially collapse in an earthquake.
What they found was a list that UC and CSU professors had kept from the public out of fear of being sued. After the LA Times published a smaller version of the list, the city of LA passed a law requiring the buildings to be seismically retrofitted within a certain time frame. According to Lin, it was gratifying to see his reporting make a positive impact, just as it has for years. From his days at the Daily Cal to his years at the LA Times, Lin has created change through journalism by telling stories that need to be told.
“It kind of shows that, … especially at the Daily Cal or just anybody with a blog, you can do a lot by just doing your own reporting and having your voice,” Lin said.