Peter Byrne is what most would call well-versed in a variety of fields. He has written books on quantum physics, and his interests include evolutionary biology, stock car racing and art. The one thing that combines this medley of subjects is his ability to concoct journalistic articles about them with his award-winning style.
Byrne launched his journalism career in the early 1990s when he began writing investigations of the San Francisco Housing Authority for the San Francisco Bayview. The three-pronged series unveiled corruption within the organization. After winning the 1996 Investigative Enterprise Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for the article, he decided to focus on investigative journalism.
“I was pissed off at the housing authority,” he said, explaining how his passion for investigative reporting began. “I only write exposés [when] people are treated badly, whether there’s criminals involved or some kind of shady activity.”
He has since exposed fundamental flaws in the San Francisco transit system, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein’s conflicts of interest and most recently, breast cancer over-diagnosis that has created non-existent breast cancer clusters in communities across the United States, among other scandals.
“It takes a certain type of person to be a investigative reporter. They have to have guts and they have to be courageous and they have to like documents and use public records acts,” said Byrne.
One of Byrne’s mentees, investigative reporter Matt Isaacs, worked with him off and on with several projects throughout the ’90s.
“One of his first publications was a little newsletter called the San Francisco Investigator, and I loved it and I just wanted to learn from this guy,” said Isaacs.
He went on to intern for Byrne and learn of his passion and ability to tell stories well. He stated that Byrne differs from other journalists because he is skilled at digging deeper into documents and finding key information that may be difficult to uncover for the untrained eye.
“He’s definitely an amazing researcher and he knows where to find documents and look for important pieces of information within those documents. He’s so smart in so many different ways,” said Isaacs.
Byrne believes there is a deficiency in investigative reporters nowadays for a variety of reasons. The reporter, who lives in Sonoma County, noted that Sonoma State University does not teach investigative reporting anymore, despite his insistence that they do so.
“People are taking classes in public relations so they can go work for public relations firms and I keep telling them if there’s no more investigative reporters they won’t need any public relations flacks,” he said.
He then mentioned that this type of journalism is also being killed by the corporate media. He explained the difficulty behind making a living as an investigative reporter unless the reporter works for someone who has an agenda already.
“I prefer to not have an agenda,” he said. “I prefer to try and find out what the actual facts are and report on that.”
With an emphasis on public records, Byrne encourages new journalists to keep their eyes open, read the media, learn how to spot and follow up with inconsistencies.
A true journalist for the people, Byrne “figures that if he can understand exactly how people steal money from the government and get away with it, or how reality-shifting media organizations owned by defense contractors are able to brainwash millions of people into working against the interest of the human species — then he can explain how it works to the reader,” according to his personal website.