Ben Trefny

News Director

Ben handles daily operations in the news department, overseeing the editorial and sound engineering teams, producing the nightly news and culture show Crosscurrents, and managing the KALW Audio Academy training program. He earned a Masters degree in journalism from the University of Oregon in 2000 and got his start in public radio at NPR member station KLCC in Eugene. After freelancing for numerous magazines and working for various commercial and public radio programs, Ben joined KALW in 2004. He has helped the department win numerous regional and national awards for long- and short-form journalism. He has also helped train dozens of radio producers, many of whom work with him at KALW, today. Ben lives with his wife and twin children in San Francisco's Outer Sunset district, where Golden Gate Park meets Ocean Beach, and spends as much time as he can outside.

Ways to Connect

Courtesy of SFGate

The San Francisco Chronicle has undergone radical transformations over the last several years. It has had to. In 2009, its readership dropped faster than any other newspaper in the country – 50 percent in just three years. While its reporters continue to win awards for their investigative journalism, the number of people actually reading that work in the paper has declined precipitously.

Jonathan Lifeson Smith

Charles Hodgkins and I are walking with several other burrito-eaters through the Mission District. He’s clearly the boss, though. It’s not just the T-shirt he’s wearing that says ‘Burrito Expert’ in Comic Sans. It’s that he’s earned that title by reviewing 999 burritos at his website burritoeater.com. He is the Burritoeater. And today he will review his final slab.

Reporting difficult stories requires journalists to go beyond headlines and sound bites. Unraveling complex issues means taking the time to dig deep--to go beyond the obvious and try to piece together sometimes hidden and conflicting facts to tell as complete a story as possible.

Marlena's Curtain Call: a documentary remembering a Hayes Valley gay bar and community hub.

The San Francisco Bay Area is famous for something that affects everybody’s visibility: fog.

Under CC license from Flickr user Steve Rhodes

Earlier this year, demonstrators staged a “camp-out” on the steps of Berkeley Post Office building, which dates to 1914. Residents don’t want to see it go, but it’s part of a much larger plan by the US Postal Service to sell some of its $85 billion real estate portfolio.

Investigative reporter Peter Byrne has written an e-book that explores the rationale behind the sales, taking on the behind-the-scenes issues that are forcing the Postal Service toward bankruptcy. The e-book is called “Going Postal: US Senator Diane Feinstein’s Husband Sells Post Offices to his Friends...Cheap.”

Sebastian Walker cut his teeth as a reporter covering the war in Iraq. He worked as a stringer for Reuters and operated an English language newspaper with fellow young journalists. 

"It was something that was criticized by a lot of more established journalists saying that without the relative experience reporting from that kind of a situation you really shouldn't be there, that's not the kind of risk worth taking," he tells KALW's Ben Trefny.

This is fire season. All you have to do is look around you to see the effects. 3,100 acres were blackened atop Mt. Diablo in September, and at the end of last week, at least three grassfires burned simultaneously, shrouding the East Bay in a dense cloud of brown smoke.

Every fire season, high dry winds and careless campers add to the incidents of wildfires. This summer, the worst was the Rim Fire--a massive forest fire that burned 400 square miles across the Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite National Park.

Courtesy of America's Cup

Courtesy of Tim Redmond


With so many media options to choose from, some older forms are getting less attention. So how are these changes reshaping what news we read, see, and hear? In our 'State of the Media' series KALW’s Ben Trefny is exploring this idea with Bay Area media makers. Today, he spoke with Tim Redmond, who recently left the San Francisco Bay Guardian after more than three decades with the paper.

Cleaning In The Rain

Sep 25, 2013
California Coastal Cleanup

The California Coastal Cleanup Day drew more than 50,000 volunteers to 850* sites around the state. They picked up more than half-a-million pounds of trash and recycling.

Courtesy of Orpheum Theater

Priscilla Queen of the Desert is showing at San Francisco's Orpheum Theater. KALW's Ben Trefny recorded a conversation with the tour's wardrobe supervisor Gillian Austin. Here's a peak behind the scenes.

Under CC license from Flickr user D. H. Parks

Many government institutions are struggling these days, among them, the United States Postal Service. One way the USPS has been trying to make money is by selling off its properties. More than 600 buildings have been targeted, with a total projected worth of more than two billion dollars. 

Dave Dugdale / Flikr Creative Commons

This weekend, over 100 meteors per hour will descend on Earth in the annual Perseid Shower, otherwise known as the "fireball champion." This shower contains the highest concentration of bright meteors, called fireballs, which are known for leaving bright, visible streaks in the sky as they fall, more so than any other recurring meteor shower. San Francisco's "Urban Astronomer" Paul Salazar explained what you can see in the night sky over the weekend. 

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder affects 8.4 percent of school-age children in the US. If you have ADHD, you already know what that means. It makes you restless. It makes it hard to focus. It makes it hard to stay focused, hard to pay attention, and hard to control your behavior, even if you want to. In 2010, we brought you a whole show focused on ADHD and its effects. We spoke with four San Francisco teenagers living with ADHD about how they managed from day to day.

DOMA is overturned; and Marlena's Curtain Call: a documentary remembering a Hayes Valley gay bar and community hub.

To subscribe to the Crosscurrents podcast in iTunes, click here. To use another podcasting tool, click here.

Under CC license from Flickr user slworking2

Sunnyvale-based Yahoo made headlines earlier this year when CEO Marissa Mayer announced that employees would no longer be allowed to work from home. Now the City of San Francisco is entering a similar realm of debate. Supervisor David Chiu has proposed that it should be mandatory for all businesses operating in San Francisco to allow their workers who are parents or caregivers the option to change their work schedules at any time.

The story at City College of San Francisco has had a lot of twists and turns since last year, and the San Francisco Chronicle’s higher education reporter, Nanette Asimov, has been one of the public’s main sources for information on it. She sat down with KALW’s Ben Trefny to talk about how the school got to where it is today, and where it’s going next.

Under CC license from Flickr user mrjoro

The Eastern span of the Bay Bridge is the region’s biggest-budget project. Plans for the seismically strong segment were first developed in 2002. It’s been more than a decade and the single suspension structure has cost more than $6 billion, which makes it overdue and over budget.

Recent issues involving snapping rods and improperly galvanized bolts may delay the long-awaited Labor Day opening.

San Francisco Chronicle reporter Jaxon Vanderbeken has been covering the Bay Bridge controversies. KALW’s Ben Trefny sat down with him for a wide-ranging conversation.

flickr

The Eastern span of the Bay Bridge is the region’s biggest-budget project. Plans for the seismically strong segment were first developed in 2002. It’s been more than a decade and the single suspension structure has cost more than $6 billion, which makes it overdue and over budget.

Recent issues involving snapping rods and improperly galvanized bolts may delay the long-awaited Labor Day opening.

Millions of people are crazy about sports, whether or not their teams are any good. Exactly why that is is the subject of Eric Simons’ new book: The Secret Lives of Sports Fans: The Science of Sports Obsession. Simons sat down with KALW’s Ben Trefny to talk about the chemistry of fandom.

If you imagine your dream job, what would it be?

Bob Harris has had a lot of jobs that may have made your list. About 15 years ago, Harris was a standup comedian, working out of L.A. Then he sent a demo tape into the city’s top radio news station, and he landed a job as a syndicated talking head.

He’s also been on Jeopardy 13 times and was even the “lifeline”for a friend on the game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” He helped his friend get a quarter-million dollars.

He’s also been a travel writer and is a published author. According to Harris, the most important thing he’s done is write a new book called The International Bank of Bob: Connecting Our Worlds One $25 Kiva Loan at a Time. KALW’s Ben Trefny asked Bob Harris to share the story of how it happened.

The San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) is dealing, today, with news that six employees misappropriated $15 million of public funds. A three-year investigation by law enforcement and the District Attorney’s office resulted in charges including grand theft, embezzlement, forgery, and perjury. Jill Tucker has been covering the case for the San Francisco Chronicle. In her cover story this morning, she details how the money was spread between school services, outside non-profits, internal computer systems, salaries, and benefits. I reached Tucker by phone and asked her how $6.7 million were allegedly used on student programs that were not designated by grant funding.

Many three-strikes prisoners are getting a second chance in California since the passage of Prop 36. Back in November, 69 percent of Californians voted yes on the proposition to change the Three Strikes Law, which was enacted in 1994. It sentenced offenders with three or more felony convictions to 25 years to life in prison -- and comparatively minor crimes could qualify as the third strike. 

Courtesy of caamfest.com

What we learn from our families is often very private. It’s knowledge we keep inside of us – and that the world doesn’t always get a chance to see. Filmmaker Mark Decena is hoping to open a window onto that kind of family life with his new film, The War Inside, involving his own childhood home movies. The film is a project of the Center for Asian American Media, CAAM, which is hosting its 31st annual festival this year and launching a new national initiative to collect and preserve Asian American home movies.  KALW's Ben Trefny spoke with Decena about the value of finally bringing these national memories to light, and Decena's personal contribution to the collection.

UFOs may be a bit far fetched, but this week there is something else coming from outer space. The Comet PanSTARRS can be seen in western skies this week.  To learn more about the science behind the spectacle, KALW's Ben Trefny spoke with Urban Astronomer Paul Salazar.

Flickr user sftrajan

If you’ve tried to find a place to live in the city lately, or even know someone who knows someone trying to find a place to live, you know San Francisco has a housing crisis. For many of the city’s longtime residents, rent control is the only thing that allows them to stay in their homes, but there’s a way for landlords to circumvent it – it’s a 1986 law called the Ellis Act.

The Ellis Act allows landlords to evict tenants if they plan to convert the building to a different use; for example, to move in themselves. In practice, it’s often been used to put buildings on the market at prices that those former tenants couldn’t afford. The last time Ellis Act evictions spiked was during the late 90s tech boom – there were 440 of them just between 1999 and 2000.

Courtesy of adamanddog.tumblr.com

I’ve always been intrigued by the short features that are nominated for Academy Awards every year. Everybody (who watches movies) is familiar with the best picture nominees, the best actors, actresses, and directors. But only recently have I become aware that the shorts that win the same awards are available to be seen as well.

A mind for Jazz

Feb 13, 2013

Record shop owner Berigan Taylor dropped by KALW to tell Executive Editor (and fellow Jazz fan) Ben Trefny the story behind his little record shop in Oakland. Berigan’s was the inspiration for Michael Chabon’s new novel, Telegraph Avenue.  Taylor is a life-long record collector and still one of the Bay Area’s biggest jazz enthusiasts. As in, he could probably name every musician on every jazz recording you have ever heard.

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