By Scott Thomas Anderson
One of Amy Yannello’s first stories for SN&R in the summer of 2007 was called “Death Watch.” Her words ran under a photo of a younger, less-politically worn Scott Jones – then a Sacramento Sheriff’s Captain – standing next to Doctor Gregory Sokolov at the main county jail. Yannello’s report was a thorough and fair exploration of why so many suicides were plaguing this correctional facility at the heart of Downtown. Yannello brought the piece to life with sparse but affecting images. She kept its findings well-balanced between illustrative anecdotes, sobering data points and relevant expert testimony. It was strong journalism by every measure. Most of all, what was published as “Death Watch” showed a lot of research and intellectual elbow grease on Yannello’s part. It was the opening salvo to a ten-year stretch of journalistic home runs she brought to the pages of News & Review.
But Yannello’s work towards transparency, civil alarms and problem-solving had started in California long before that. Originally from Chico, the budding news hound cut her teeth at The Spartan Daily in San Jose, The Oakdale Leader near Yosemite and then The Vacaville Reporter. Just like myself, prior to becoming a staff reporter at SN&R, Yannello worked nearby at The Roseville Press-Tribune.
A quick scan of our archives highlights how Yannello brought an investigative edge to many stories that typically slip through the cracks. Her time in Sacramento was marked by a particular focus on understanding people who were suffering.
Yannello’s last story for SN&R was called “Renters’ disability tax.” It was a first-person account of how impossible it had become for her to rent an apartment as someone who was now permanently disabled. Only a year before, SN&R had started a concerted effort to understand the gravity and magnitude of Sacramento’s affordable housing crisis (at a time when local elected officials were still unwilling to whisper that phrase out loud). Yannello’s final piece was a meaningful contribution in that direction, told with unflinching detail and unsettling specificity.
Yannello passed away at the end of January.
“Amy was a talented and devoted member of SN&R’s editorial team, particularly known for her adept stories on mental health, income inequality and homelessness,” former SN&R editor Melinda Welsh said this week. “She was loved and will be sorely missed.”
Former News & Review staffer Jackson Griffith had similar reflections.
“When I joined the SN&R as Arts Editor in 2000, Amy Yannello and me, along with Cosmo Garvin and a few others, were shoehorned into the cramped newsroom/cube farm upstairs in the old converted Miller & Skelton mortuary on 20th Street,” he recalled. “Amy was fiercely dedicated to recording and telling the stories of people who were not born on third base and thought they hit triples to get there, a quality that is woefully underrepresented and sorely needed in today’s media environment. She was also funny as hell, and she passionately cared about animals, and she was a friend I will miss dearly.”
If a journalist is to be judged by the body of their work, then I would say that Yannello should be remembered as an old-school reporter in the very best sense of the term – careful, tenacious and dedicated to amplifying unheard voices. Yannello didn’t produce the kind of work that – then or now – shallowly elevates a news writer into a broader, more-marketable “brand.” She also didn’t roll out the kind of access-obsessed features that would turn her into some iteration of “a Sacramento celebrity.” Her commitment to in-the-trenches, bring-your-lunchbox-to-work truth-seeking, which was aimed at the most-dire and challenging social issues, is of the type that will never steer one in those directions. But if the purpose of journalism is to help readers find themselves better-armed to improve their communities, address social ills and survive this crazy ride called life, then a tireless, working-class reporter like Yannello is worth a thousand brand-builders and would-be Sacramento celebrities. According to Yannello’s friends, there will be a celebration of life for her on April 15 at Ernesto’s Restaurant on 16th Street in Sacramento at noon. We at SN&R would like to acknowledge that Yannello wrote more than 100 stories for us – many of them outstanding – and in doing, put her blood, sweat and tears into the wider health of our region.