Alumni Portrait: Lucas Waldron (‘17), Graphics Editor at ProPublica

March 17, 2023

Lucas Waldron (‘17) describes his job as “finding ways to explain complicated concepts using visuals.” That includes video, motion graphics, mapping and data visualization.

Waldron (‘17) joined ProPublica right after graduating from Berkeley’s Journalism School. With degrees in Politics and Film Studies at the University of San Francisco, he had little professional experience. In his first year, Waldron would gain that invaluable experience at local NPR member station KQED as a video intern on the interactive team. He became a New York Times video graphics intern the following summer.

His thesis, “A Town, Divided,” co-advised by Jeremy Rue and Richard Koci Hernandez, profiled Patagonia, Arizona, a small rural town not far from where he grew up that was bitterly divided over a new mining project.

Waldron filming his thesis project in Arizona in 2017.

“Lucas’ stories were daring, robust, and he consistently punched above his weight creatively and intellectually,” Rue said.

In fact, the multimedia department couldn’t let him go and hired Waldron to teach Animating the News in 2021. “He was kind, driven, and needed little direction. The best I could do was get out of his way and support him,” Hernandez said.

His multimedia skills helped him get his job at ProPublica on the Audience and Engagement Team in 2017. His first assignment was to come up with ideas for how to communicate investigative journalism on social media. He also edited and wrote the scripts for dozens of short videos.

“ProPublica’s brand is very much focused on uncovering secrets. I was interested in exploring how we do that with video,” Waldron said.

He went on to join the video team in 2019. For two years, Waldron focused on evidentiary video which he explains as being the person who would know what to do with a video that came in from a records request or a source.

But he also pitched his own ideas and found a receptive, collaborative newsroom to grow them.

As a trans journalist, he pays close attention to this historically underrepresented community in his work. In “Deadnamed,” he looked into how police investigate the murders of transgender people. He also exposed how the TSA performs invasive searches on transgender people as they pass through airport controls.

Waldron also analyzed evidentiary video for a story about a man in a psychiatric crisis who died in police custody. Watching 18 hours of traumatic footage to shed light on horrible injustices took a high emotional toll, he said.

In 2020, Waldron wanted to transition to a role that was more focused on graphics, where he could grow as a programmer and build explanatory graphics into stories.

“I have this skill that’s working well on social, but what I really want to do is more elaborate reporting and in the graphics space,” he told his bosses. He was able to find the right mentors and transitioned to ProPublica’s newly created graphics team.

As a graphics editor, it is his responsibility to create interactives such as maps obtaining satellite imagery and public records. A recent example of his work uncovered how wildfires in Colorado are growing more unpredictable and officials have neglected protecting the local population.

In this new role, Waldron credits what he learned in his data visualizations class with lecturer Peter Aldhous. “I probably learned the most in his class. I still go back to his class website for little things I keep forgetting all the time,” Waldron laughed.

Aldhous saw Waldron grow beyond what was covered in his course and praised how his technical skills elevated his reporting.

“Lucas seems to gravitate towards coverage where his own experience brings a particularly deep perspective on it,” Aldhous said. “A profound sense of outrage for what’s wrong is a powerful motivator for journalism.”

By Irene Benedicto (‘23)

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