Lester Black, cannabis editor at SFGate.com, didn’t mean to be a journalist. Not really, at least. It was in his last year of college that, on a whim, he took his first journalism class. It wasn’t a plan or a vision or anything deeper than him needing a course to fill his schedule.
But it turned out to be transformative, setting him on the path to a career that he loves.
“It felt like a really natural fit,” says Lester. “I’m a curious person; I like to ask questions and explore the world, and journalism allowed me to explore the world and write – two passions of mine.”
Editor: “The only thing I want from you is cannabis news.”
With freshly minted degrees in poly sci and journalism in hand, he jumped feet first into the world of professional journalism, quickly landing a staff role at the Leaf Chronicle in Tennessee.
After covering the city politics beat for a few years, Lester packed up and headed back to his hometown. In Seattle, Lester reconnected with The Stranger, the iconic alternative weekly of his adolescence. A longtime admirer and reader, he wanted in. After a series of rejected pitches, an editor squared with him: “The only thing I want from you is cannabis news.”
Lester got to work, approaching his pitches and eventual assignments with a balance between the closeness of a cannabis user and the traditional detachment of journalism. By 2017, his signature style gained him a steady stream of work, and he established a solid foothold in the world of cannabis reporting.
Slowing Down – and Doubling Down on Science – at UVM
When he saw a press release about the UVM Cannabis Media Fellowship, Lester was excited for an opportunity to slow down. It’s not that he expected his coursework to be easy or leisurely paced – but as a journalist, he had become accustomed to working at a rapid clip, perpetually grinding toward the next deadline.
“I already speak to professors quite a bit for stories, but this is when I’m very narrowly focused and on a deadline. There’s not always a lot of time to explore,” Lester explains.
The UVM program was an opportunity to read peer reviewed research, collaborate with peers, and consult with professors without the pressure of having to produce a story. He could learn for the sake of learning and follow his curiosity.
“My UVM professors were excellent educators and also extremely open to all kinds of questions.” Lester explains. “I quickly saw that there are many benefits to having academic grounding as a journalist.”
Even while he was enjoying the respite of a well-paced cannabis curriculum, Lester couldn’t put work on hold altogether during his Cannabis Media Fellowship. “At times,” he says, “it was a lot to balance. In a perfect world I would have stopped working and just done the program, but remote learning makes it significantly easier to balance everything.”
Cannabis Misinformation is Ubiquitous. Science-Backed Journalism Can Help.
Looking back on the fellowship experience, Lester says that one of his most valuable takeaways was something he already knew – but sometimes struggled to speak to.
“The science on cannabis and the current marketing of cannabis don’t match up,” he says. “What’s said in cannabis stores often isn’t true, but people have very strong opinions about these things. Things like the taxonomies of sativa and indica, for example – without the academic background, it can be difficult to counter someone who’s grown cannabis for 25 years who says something inaccurate.”
Thanks to his time in the Cannabis Plant Biology course, Lester is more equipped to correct the record and challenge erroneous information. “The UVM program is keeping me grounded in science,” he says.
Now, at SFGate.com, Lester is committed to continuously raising the bar on cannabis reporting and embracing the limitless storytelling avenues that cannabis opens up. “I love what I do because I’m exploring a fascinating plant that has one of the longest histories of use with humans, which means there’s so many different stories. I love writing about cannabis because you can write about anything – history, culture, business, government, regulation, everything.”
Cannabis is one of the fastest-growing industries in the country. Find your footing on a new career track with UVM online cannabis education.