Renaissance Journalism announces executive leadership transition

Renaissance Journalism announced today a leadership change with the retirement of Founder Jon Funabiki and the selection of Deputy Director Valerie Bush to succeed him as the organization’s executive director.

“With ambitious plans for growth in the wings, it is the perfect time for this transition, and Valerie is the ideal person to take the organization’s helm,” said Funabiki. “She has the combination of experience, skills and talents to guide Renaissance Journalism to its next stage of development.

“Valerie has worked side by side with me since the organization’s inception in 2009, helping to shape and build what was just a kernel of an idea I had into the vibrant, social justice-driven journalism organization it is today. A longtime journalist, nonprofit leader and communications strategist, she has spearheaded many of Renaissance Journalism’s groundbreaking initiatives, including the Equity Reporting Project, LearningLab and the Vietnam Reporting Project. She is currently laying plans to launch two ambitious national initiatives in 2021:  a journalism fellowship on equity and housing and LaunchPad, an early-career program to support ‘next-gen’ journalists. Throughout her tenure with Renaissance Journalism, Valerie has been instrumental in advancing our strategic objectives, elevating our media efforts, and championing our mission to advance equity and social justice through journalism.”

“I am so grateful to Jon for inviting me on this exciting and inspirational journey—his brainchild—called Renaissance Journalism,” said Bush. “Throughout this decade-long journey, Jon has been an insightful, wise and visionary leader, as well as a trusted and inspirational colleague. I have learned so much from him. And, yes, I know I have ‘big shoes to fill.’

“I am brimming with excitement and optimism as I contemplate becoming the executive director of Renaissance Journalism. Thanks to Jon’s stellar leadership, our organization is in excellent shape and poised to grow, flourish and to have even greater impact in the years ahead. I look forward to leading Renaissance Journalism into this bright future.”

Bush began her tenure with Renaissance Journalism as a consultant and became its deputy director in 2010. She is a journalist who has had a 20-year career in media, nonprofit administration, strategic communications and project management. Prior to joining Renaissance Journalism, Bush was the communications and marketing director at California Institute of Integral Studies. She has served as the executive director of the Asian American Journalists Association, as well as worked as a reporter for the Marin Independent Journal, an assistant editor at The Village Voice, and as the editorial director at the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education. Prior to pursuing a career in journalism, Bush was a community organizer and activist in the battered women’s movement for nearly a decade and is a co-founder of the San Francisco-based Asian Women’s Shelter. She currently serves on the board of directors of the Society of Professional Journalist’s Northern California chapter.

Over the past 11 years, under Funabiki’s leadership, Renaissance Journalism has pioneered ways to improve news coverage of equity and social justice issues through national fellowships, collaborative reporting projects, grants and training. Hundreds of journalists from a wide range of news outlets have produced innovative and award-winning coverage on such complex issues as the growing crisis in housing insecurity and affordability, systemic inequities in public education, the Covid-19 pandemic and its disproportionate impact on communities of color, the financial crisis in Detroit, and the toxic legacy of Agent Orange in Vietnam.

Funabiki, a professor of journalism at San Francisco State University, founded Renaissance Journalism in 2009, a time when virtually all traditional news organizations were struggling to survive a battering ram of change sparked by new digital technologies and business models. In the face of crisis, Renaissance Journalism encouraged journalists to innovate, to seek wisdom from the communities they cover, and to zero in on systemic inequities, social justice issues, and amplifying the voices and stories of marginalized people.

“When some people declared ‘journalism is dying,’ we asked, ‘What’s possible?’” said Funabiki, adding: “I’m grateful for the many journalists who brought muscle to our programs and energy to our mission. And none of this work would have been possible without the help of the foundations and donors who trusted and supported our ideas and vision for change.”

Funabiki saw Renaissance Journalism as a way to channel experiences collected from a rich 50-year career that spanned journalism, philanthropy and education. He covered East and Southeast Asia as a reporter for 17 years at The San Diego Union; developed the Ford Foundation’s first grant program on the news media; and, during two separate stints at San Francisco State University, taught journalism and launched three cutting-edge centers: the Dilena Takeyama Center for the Study of Japan & Japanese Culture, the Lab for Media & Community, and the Center for Integration & Improvement of Journalism. During his journalism career, Funabiki has been awarded the John S. Knight Professional Journalism Fellowship at Stanford University; the Jefferson Fellowship at the East-West Center of Honolulu; and a National Endowment for the Humanities Professional Summer Fellowship at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

“Jon’s accomplished career has been devoted to harnessing the power of journalism to promote positive social change and equity,” said Dr. Cristina Azocar, an associate professor of journalism at San Francisco State University and chair of Renaissance Journalism’s Advisory Committee since 2016. “He is a pioneer and leader in the fight to make our nation’s newsrooms more inclusive and diverse and to strengthen local news coverage as a way to amplify the voices of communities of color and all marginalized people. I know Jon’s legacy of social justice journalism will continue with Valerie at the helm of Renaissance Journalism.”

The new leadership transition is effective January 1, 2021.