Jessica Lum, an award-winning visual journalist and graduate of UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, died Jan. 13 of cancer at the age of 25.
An editor of online news site Mission Local and photography site PetaPixel, Lum was a talented multimedia and photographic reporter who used her skills to tell empathetic stories of people throughout the world, from San Francisco’s Mission District to as far away as South Korea and Thailand.
From a young age, Lum, a Sacramento native, was known for her positive energy. Nick Hunte, a childhood friend of Lum’s who attended the same church, said he remembered Lum’s witty, sarcastic sense of humor.
“She did whatever she could to make us laugh,” Hunte said. “Even during her final years, she still kept that same spirit.”
Hunte also remembered her kindness.
“I remember early days when I went to summer camp with the church,” Hunte said. “She would go out of her way to check up on me. It wasn’t just for me — she did that for everyone.”
But when Lum entered her final year at UCLA, she received news over the winter break that she had metastatic pheochromocytoma, a rare form of cancer that is difficult to treat, according to a 2009 story by the Modesto Bee.
By the time Lum entered UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism in 2010, she had decided to keep the details of her illness private. Her friends and colleagues in the journalism school were surprised and saddened to learn of her condition after her graduation from UC Berkeley last spring.
“Knowing her, I feel like she wouldn’t have wanted anyone to feel sorry for her or to think that she wasn’t capable of things,” said Lisette Mejia, Lum’s fellow editor at Mission Local. “She just wanted to be who she was, to take on things without people having this image of her.”
For her master’s thesis at UC Berkeley, Lum spent four weeks in the Colorado Desert in California at a settlement called Slab City. Her subsequent multimedia project, Slab City Stories, won the Online News Association’s Online Journalism Award in September.
Even as a temporary guest, Lum was able to leave her mark. A heartfelt post regarding her death on a Slab City website remembers Lum with respect and admiration.
“She lived with us for weeks at a time more than once to truly get a feel for who we are … She was a true Journalist. Recording the event through pictures and words that showed the soul of her subjects. She stayed true to her statement that she was addicted to … ‘above all: human beings’.”