Meet the Media: Jonathan Bach, Portland Business Journal Reporter
Photo Credit: Makenna Bach
In this edition of Meet the Media, we are getting to know Jonathan Bach from the Portland Business Journal. International studies, incredibly inspiring mentors and an ever-growing set of journalistic skills are just a few of the things that paved Jonathan Bach’s way to where he is today. As a housing and commercial real estate reporter for the Portland Business Journal, Jonathan has an insightful perspective and a lasting curiosity that he brings to his work.
What was the path to your current career/job?
I read “Where Men Win Glory” by Jon Krakauer in high school and found myself absorbed in the deeply reported story of Pat Tillman. While I can’t draw a straight line from that book to my wanting to become a journalist, it made a strong impression. My mother also suffered from kidney failure and blogged for years about her journey. My leaning toward writing comes from her, I think. In early college I was a Russian major, planning to teach abroad. That changed around the time I went to Austria for a study abroad trip, during which time I wrote for a Viennese news organization called Weiner Zeitung. I graduated college, did an internship in Michigan and came home to Oregon to work at the Statesman Journal in Salem covering business and city politics. In January 2020, I moved to a job with the Portland Business Journal, after seeing a job posting online and applying.
Which of your stories are you most proud of?
Some of my favorite stories are ones that I work on with other reporters. My colleague Malia Spencer and I did a cover story about Albina Vision Trust, a group working to restore a part of Portland that used to be a center of African American life in the city. Another is an investigative piece I did with my former coworker, Whitney Woodworth, at the Statesman Journal that examined flaws in Oregon’s child welfare system that left kids in harm’s way. These stories take a long time. Seeing them publish is gratifying.
What is your favorite thing about your job?
I was an introverted kid, but as a journalist I’ve come to love talking with new people. It’s cliché, but being a journalist gives you an excuse to meet just about anyone. Being a beat reporter means I can dig into one specific facet of business journalism – real estate – and accumulate expertise in that area. I love being first on a big story, and I love pieces that have accountability angles.
What skills have you found to be most useful in your job?
I’d like to think I’m an easy person to talk to, so people tell me things.
What is something unexpected that you have learned from your career?
How to be more organized. I keep a planner on my desk to track everything I want to get done on a given day, or what projects I want to pick away at. I highly recommend it. My organizational skills used to be scattershot, but these days I rely heavily on my Outlook calendar to make sure I don’t miss important interviews or meetings.
What do you look for in a story?
Personally, I want a story that will make people feel something. Practically, I look for stories that have at least one of these elements:
- Does the story break news, telling people something they didn’t already know?
- Does the story highlight a pressing trend that affects people who read the PBJ?
- Is this a longer-term investigation that will take a lot of time in the oven before it’s fully baked. Interspersed with daily work, for instance, I am working on a project that I don’t plan to file until November. For public relations reps, I would recommend making sure the story you’re pitching ticks one of these boxes and, for a local publication like the PBJ, is related to Portland or Oregon.
What does your day look like at your job?
On a typical day I conduct interviews, go to meetings with editors and write. During Covid, most of that takes place from my desk in my apartment living room, though I’ve gone out on assignment here and there. (I recently went to a demonstration of a new acoustic system at a downtown concert hall). I also text and email sources.
Who do you most look up to in the journalism industry?
My PBJ colleagues. Suzanne Stevens, our top editor, is a phenomenal mentor and newsroom leader, with a clear vision for the hard-hitting business journalism she wants us reporters to produce. I’ve learned a ton about storytelling and long-form writing from her since I moved to the PBJ.
Author and University of Oregon professor Peter Laufer, who officiated my wedding, is another hero. I went on a college study abroad trip to Austria that Peter taught, and he has guided me as a mentor ever since. Despite being a very busy guy, I can’t think of a time when he didn’t take time to respond to an email from me. Peter is one of these people who advocates for others and tries to send opportunities their way.
Just a handful of other current and former journalists I admire includes John Stoll, Bruce Hammond, Cherrill Crosby, Masha Gessen, Karen Pensiero, Timothy Egan, Jon Krakauer and Héctor Tobar.
Fill in the blank:
- If I am not working, I am… probably hanging out with my wife, Makenna. We frequently go on walks around our southwest Portland neighborhood.
- If I could interview anyone, it would be… someone who can give me a good real estate scoop.
- The last concert I attended was to.. a concert showcasing the music of John Williams at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland, not long before the pandemic was declared.
- My favorite thing about Seattle is… that it is where I met a group of friends with whom my wife went to graduate school for music. We now play the game Dungeons and Dragons over Zoom most weeks.
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