What’s the biggest challenge in delivering quality journalism?

Answers from former editors of SCU’s student newspaper, The Santa Clara.

We are undergoing a profound shift in how people receive and consume information about their community and the wider world. Institutions we have relied on for decades—newspapers, especially, but also local TV news and other mediums—are being replaced by social media channels that make little distinction between news, opinion, entertainment, propaganda, and other content. That lack of distinction is muddling the information marketplace and eroding what used to be its bedrock: a widely agreed upon set of facts gathered by reliable news outlets. Without that, political operators can easily manipulate consumers into drifting toward political poles, shutting out competing viewpoints, and squashing meaningful discussion about how to improve lives.

JOE TONE ’01 — a veteran newspaper reporter and editor who recently published his first book, Bones: Brothers, Horses, Cartels and the Borderland Dream.

Joe Tone
Photo courtesy Joe Tone

The cost and experience. Journalism isn’t cheap: It takes money to pay salaries, benefits, public-records requests, lawsuits, and reporting trips. Seasoned journalists have also, from my experience, been leaving the industry—and with them leaves years of source-building and nuance that can help inform readers of sensitive or complex areas, whether that’s city hall or the science beat.

JACK GILLUM ’06 — an investigative reporter at the Washington Post, formerly with AP, USA Today, and the Arizona Daily Star.

For many years, the U.S. had the moral high ground in upholding press freedom around the world. Now we have an administration that calls reporters the enemies of freedom. The problem is in how real, responsible journalism can penetrate an environment where millions of people are being swamped by inside-out “news” and misdirection to an extent we’ve never seen. Quality journalism has many platforms, but arenas that used to be dominated by real journalism now are flooded with every other kind of material—not beholden to rigorous journalistic standards— that the information age offers, much of it masquerading as journalism.

RITA BEAMISH ’74 — whose journalism career includes 20 years with AP as a White House, political, environmental, and investigative reporter.

WHAT IMPORTANT LESSON DID YOUR TIME AS A JOURNALIST AT SCU TEACH YOU?

Trust is our only currency. If sources don’t trust us, they won’t talk to us and we can’t do our job. If readers don’t trust us to tell the truth, they are not going to read our stories. And unless we are transparent, we can’t gain trust.

JESSICA HARDCASTLE ’98 — senior editor at SDxCentral.

My first editor at The Santa Clara, now a journalist in Washington, drilled into his staff the importance of getting the small details right—names, numbers, dates—because if you mess those up, how will readers trust you with the big stuff? That was true when we were reporting at Santa Clara about discrimination at parties or a University investigation into a cheerleading coach, just as it’s true today when I’m writing about legislation worth billions of dollars or investigations into Russian election meddling. A journalist’s best defense against charges of bias is to be as accurate, fair, and thorough as possible.

JEREMY HERB ’08 — CNN national security reporter, covering the Russia investigations and Congress. He was formerly with PoliticoThe Hill, and the Minneapolis Star Tribune.