I’m eager to dig in as inewsource’s newest reporter focused on San Diego County’s backcountry, and I’ll need your help.

I am currently writing from my home in Chico, although I’ll be in San Diego soon. I was in Chico to help cover the aftermath of the fire that nearly destroyed the Northern California town of Paradise for the local daily newspaper, the Chico Enterprise-Record. 

A few weeks ago, I told the Cal Fire division chief in Butte County that I was moving to San Diego for a new job. He quickly pointed out that he had mobilized to the area to help fight the Cedar fire in 2003. Fifteen years later, he relied on the same mutual aid system to fight the Camp fire in his own backyard.

We talked about some of the ways Butte County and San Diego County are similar, like on issues of fire, public lands and rural infrastructure.

According to the memo my inewsource editor wrote for me, San Diego County’s backcountry receives scant news coverage yet is home to 18 Indian reservations and nine casinos, farms, a national forest, two state parks, Caltech’s Palomar Observatory and several U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints. There are 18 school districts, 10 water districts and eight fire districts.

My assignment is to expand inewsource’s accountability journalism to the county’s eastern region, which stretches from Riverside County to the U.S.-Mexico border. I’ll focus on growth and development issues but also how this area has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

One reason I brought up Cal Fire’s Butte County division chief and his work in San Diego County in 2003 is that I see some parallels with my own journey across California. Good journalism is also driven by a sense of public service. 

My work, both in Butte County and now in San Diego, is partly funded by an initiative called Report for America. It’s a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. The reporters go where they’re needed — sometimes in their hometowns, sometimes in places they’ve never been before — to become a part of a community, document local triumphs and struggles, and keep an eye on powerful figures and institutions.

I’ll be coming to this area with little background knowledge. I grew up in the Bay Area, though my family is originally from Switzerland. (That explains my name. I won’t be upset if you mispronounce it, but in case you were wondering, it’s Ca-mee von Keh-nel.) I spent several years in Washington, D.C., as a reporter covering environment, transportation and energy policy, and now I’m pleased to be back West.

Help me understand this area so I can best serve you. If you live, work or otherwise have ties to San Diego County’s backcountry, please consider filling out a Google Survey for me. Your ideas will power my reporting.

You can also reach me by email at camillevonkaenel@inewsource.org. My phone number is (619) 320-8330. News tips and advice on the backcountry are welcome.

Camille von Kaenel is a former investigative reporter for inewsource focused on environment and energy in San Diego and Imperial counties. Her position was partly funded by Report for America, a national program that supports local journalists. Previously, she covered growth and development in San...