Former journalists Bernard Gonzales and Leslie Wolf Branscomb both have found new homes on the staffs of Chula Vista City Council members.
Gonzales, a former broadcast reporter with NBC San Diego and spokesman for Chula Vista Police Department, was recently hired by newly elected Councilwoman Mary Salas as her senior council assistant.
Wolf Branscomb worked as a reporter with the San Diego Union-Tribune for 18 years prior to accepting an editor position with Patch online before becoming Chula Vista Councilwoman Patricia Aguilar’s council aide two years ago.
Gonzales voluntarily switched from journalism to public relations because he felt broadcast journalism was moving in a direction he didn’t like, and because he wanted new challenges. Wolf Branscomb accepted a buyout from the U-T in 2007 before downsizing hit print media, which has been wracked by economic competition and technological change.
Like many other journalists transitioning to new occupations with the ongoing conversion of print to digital in the electronic age, both political assistants have found that their reporting skills transfer over well into their new occupations.
Both noted that, though they at times still miss being journalists, they’ve found meaning and fulfillment in their new roles as legislative assistants which, like the media, serve the public by keeping lines of communication open.
Interestingly enough, Gonzales never planned to be a broadcast journalist.
“I’d always planned on teaching,” he said, noting he got his university degree in radio, TV and film with the idea he’d be utilizing those skills instructing at the high school level.
Wolf Branscomb never imagined she’d be anything other than a print journalist. But after leaving the U-T, her appetite for politics was whetted by working in Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful campaign to become the Democratic presidential nominee.
Noting Chula Vista Councilwoman Aguilar was a “friend of our family,” Wolf Branscomb found that an offer from the councilwoman to work for her was just too good to pass up.
“I decided to leave journalism, at least for awhile, because it seemed like a new adventure and I was very interested in getting into politics and seeing things from the inside, which as a journalist I’d covered from the other side.”
Gonzales said he became disheartened with broadcast journalism because he found himself doing a lot of production functions unrelated to reporting, and because he found the subject matter he was covering was leaning more toward reporting “what the number one TV show was” rather than what the major issues of the day were.
“That started to weigh on me,” he said. “That’s not why I got into the business.”
Gonzales taught for a time at SDSU before taking a position as public information officer with Chula Vista Police Department, which he found much to his liking.
“I was able to deal with daily issues of interest to the media, and I knew what information they wanted and how to get it for them,” he said.
But budget cuts trimmed his position with the Police Department. Later on, when Salas, whom he had become acquainted with during his years as a TV reporter, approached him about being an aide, he seized the opportunity.
Wolf Branscomb said she probably goes to just about as many public meetings now representing the councilwoman as she did previously covering them as a newspaper reporter.
“But I go home now after the meetings, I don’t have to write about them right after,” she said.
Rather than covering a beat as a print journalist, Wolf Branscomb said her role as legislative aide is farther ranging and more encompassing.
“You just have to be interested in everything,” she pointed out. “You have to be able to switch gears. You might be asked to talk about public safety one minute, and then a dog-barking ordinance the next.”
Just like journalism, Wolf Branscomb said legislative assistants need to be able to “reach out to people and become engaged.”
The legislative aide said what she likes best about her job is “seeing how the issues come up and develop and to know the back story which is fascinating.”
Both Gonzales and Wolf Branscomb had advice to offer journalists looking to transfer into politics or other public-relations fields.
“Stay true to your craft, try to shed light on the issues, be honest and diligent,” Gonzales said.
“The best advice I could give is to think about what it is you enjoy, that will help you discover your answer,” said Wolf Branscomb. “As a journalist, for me, it was covering politics.”