Q&A: Meet Brandon Yadageri Moreno, HCN’s first climate justice fellow

The application deadline for the second-ever climate justice fellowship at HCN is March 31.

 

In February, High Country News welcomed its first climate justice fellow: Brandon Yadageri Moreno, a documentary film producer and cinematographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area on unceded Lisjan (Ohlone) lands. Brandon, who holds a master’s degree in video journalism from UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, has earned numerous fellowships and produces award-winning work. He stood out among the initial application class of 130 and will be at HCN for the next six months. The climate justice fellowship is made possible by the generous support of the Society for Environmental Journalism’s Fund for Environmental Journalism. Applications are now available for HCN’s second-ever climate justice fellow, and they will be accepted through March 31.

Brandon Yadageri
Dallin Mello

HCN: You’re the first climate justice fellow for High Country News. How’d you learn about the fellowship, and what prompted you to apply?

Brandon Yadageri Moreno: I think the staff at HCN have always been good about going out of their way to publicize opportunities to work at the magazine. I saw this one mentioned in a Slack channel for journalists of color and on Twitter. After I reached out to learn more, the staff members who had shared the fellowship posting offered to hop on the phone and talk with me about the position. They really made it a point to make themselves accessible. I had been looking for an opportunity to get involved at the magazine for a while, and this fellowship — with its openness to hosting a filmmaker and other visual journalists — piqued my interest. At this transitional point in my career, it really made me stop and think about what kind of work I wanted to do. In reflecting on the work I had already been doing, I was actually surprised to see how much of it was either clearly linked to climate justice or unfolding amid a backdrop of climate change. Between the stated focus of the fellowship and how I’ve always sought to center the voices of communities of color and low-income communities in my work, I thought my ongoing and future projects could find a home here at High Country News.

HCN: Do you remember how you first encountered HCN?

BYM: I first heard about the publication during my first year at Cal, as I was studying for my master’s in journalism. I watched one of my friends pitch and publish a piece with HCN. Seeing her create that opportunity for herself with the magazine while also still being a student of journalism made HCN feel accessible and approachable in a way that many national outlets don’t. By the time the story was published, I had encountered the rest of the magazine’s work online. Then, early last year, I had a follow-up encounter by way of my dad, who — to my surprise at the time — is a subscriber to the print magazine. He showed me the “Land-Grab Universities” issue (March 2020). I remember being in such awe of that extensive investigation, seeing such a sharp and well-researched way to look at this broader pattern of Indigenous dispossession right under our noses. At that time, as a student of the UC, one of the university systems implicated in the investigation, it was both jarring and motivating to try to create work as illuminating as that. Since then, it’s been a joy to follow the magazine for the past year as a subscriber myself. Of course, I appreciate the journalism, but as a filmmaker, I always find myself thinking, How could we turn this into a film?

HCN: So your dad’s a subscriber. Did you grow up in the West?

BYM: I’m from Tucson, Arizona — I grew up in the West, but I didn’t know it at the time. Being into the magazine, reading the magazine and now working at the magazine has resulted in this sort of journey into identity and has been a learning experience in and of itself. Being among the first in my family to be born within these borders, and thinking of us as being part of the American West and its legacy — for better or worse — is something I couldn’t comprehend as a kid.

HCN: Does your own story play into the types of stories you’d like to see in HCN?

BYM: Coming from a background where both my parents were a part of broader migrations and diaspora, that has always felt to me like a unique experience that I want to honor in how I approach my work and the kinds of stories I work on. I like to think that those experiences also help me remain sensitive to other people’s unique experiences, particularly around migration and belonging. Having spent about five years working in media, it’s clear that our stories are not prioritized and our voices are not centered by outlets in their coverage of our communities. And so now, I’m most interested in trying to reflect and uplift the stories of people like me, my parents, and the original peoples of this land that we’ve settled on, to the magazine and its audience.

HCN: How did you feel, as a filmmaker, coming into a publication known for its print magazine?

BYM: I think one of the most exciting things about being at HCN in this moment is that everyone at the magazine shares an understanding that we should be striving to tell stories in whichever medium the story is best suited to. And whether that’s in writing, through photos, audio or video, there’s a clear commitment to bringing the magazine’s critical lens and ambitious reporting to all of its projects. Meanwhile, it’s clear just how important visuals are for the magazine; Bear (Roberto Guerra, our photo editor) has moved mountains to elevate conversations around the magazine’s imagery. So to me, this seemed like a huge opportunity to experiment with video. For over 50 years, the magazine has met people where they’re at in how they consume the news. In 2021 and beyond, video has to be one of the myriad ways HCN immerses its readers in our storytelling about the West.

HCN: This fellowship is designed for early- to mid-career journalists. How do you see this role as potentially shaping the work you have ahead of you?

BYM: As I mentioned earlier, this opportunity has really forced me to take stock of the work I’ve naturally gravitated towards. I’ve been surprised to find those common threads: migration and displacement; the land we leave behind; the land and people that receive us; and what we owe them. In reporting on climate justice — the focus of this fellowship — I’ve been forced to reckon with climate change as among the largest drivers of migration and displacement today. At this early stage in my career, I find myself a lot more focused and able to make those connections. And as a filmmaker, this fellowship affords me the time, mentorship and resources to be able to spend the next six months working with communities with a camera in-hand, in order to produce meaningful and impactful stories.

HCN: What would you like to see from your time here? Are you focused on the impact of your work, or what impact would you also like to have on the publication?

BYM: One of the joys of working with this staff is how obvious it is that the work we all do has an impact on one another. I hope that whatever I have to offer has some sort of impact on the people I work with, as aspirational as that may be. Specifically though, I would love to see us do more nuanced work about the Borderlands to help our readers reimagine what the region is and what it can be, especially for migrants and Indigenous communities. Beyond that, I genuinely hope the lasting impact of my time with HCN is an orientation and commitment to tell compelling stories through video, whatever shape that may take. And while the future of the magazine and our impact is important to me, as someone who cares deeply about the West and the communities who call this place home, what I cherish most is the opportunity to help craft and uplift our stories. Because I know there’s intrinsic value to our stories and voices.

Apply for HCN’s climate justice fellowship by March 31.

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