The Future of Journalism

art“I think we are at a critical point right now, with what’s happening with journalism and news,” said Bay Area news legend Wendy Tokuda. She and three other respected journalists spoke to students and faculty on “The Future of Journalism,” as part of the Roy E. and Patricia Disney Forum lecture series held on Wednesday evening, November 20, in Hagerty Lounge.

The seasoned panelists included Saint Mary’s alum Tim O’Rourke ’03, managing editor at the San Francisco Chronicle; Craig Lazzeretti, Bay Area news group editor; Bob Butler, investigative reporter at KCBS; and Tokuda, award-winning primetime television news anchor for CBS KPIX 5.

The diverse panelists have worked in various media outlets and have collectively amassed over a century of experience covering the news in print, radio, television, and most recently, digital platforms. They gave insight to the past, present, and future of the Fourth Estate, including discussing the expense and effort it takes to break stories—and get them right. The event was co-moderated by Communication Department Chair Professor Aaron Sachowitz, and Brandon Cadiz ’20, the broadcast voice of Saint Mary’s women’s basketball.

The panelists each emphasized that audiences, regardless of the media source from which they are getting their news, must be aware of what is fact versus opinion. Citizens must think critically about the reports they encounter. They also cautioned future journalists on rushing to break stories rather than taking the time to verify their authenticity in the increasingly shortened news cycle. “It is what enables a democracy to work,” Tokuda said, stressing the media’s responsibility.

The evening was organized into a biographical introductory portion, in which the panelists explored their personal journey with the news; and an open Q&A, engaging the students and faculty.

 

The Panelists on Their Beginnings

“In Moraga, Bob Butler, KCBS. Some of y’all may have heard that before,” Butler said, beginning the introductory section of the night. Butler, who was an investigate reporter for radio for over three decades, began as a young man who wanted “to be a disc-jockey,” he said. “I was the ‘Gentle Gemini’ guaranteed to satisfy,” he recounted about his start in radio. At that time a disc-jockey either had to have formal education or experience. Butler chose the education route and enrolled in Chabot College in Hayward.

Classes were not enough to satisfy the Gentle Gemini: He wanted to be on the air. He switched to news from music because there was a job opening. “The professor came to me and said, ‘Do you really want to get on the air now?’ and I said yeah. ‘Well, we need someone to do the news,’” replied the professor, Butler told the audience.

Butler began by doing a morning news brief. Eventually, this led to interviews, “so, I got myself a Sony Walkman, so you could record,” Butler told the listeners to a mix of confusion and chuckles. He landed at KCBS “a few years ago, and I am still there.” He has worked there for over 20 years.

Butler closed his introduction trying to persuade students to get into the news. “You don’t get into this business for the money; you get in because you want to make a difference,” he said. “I wanted to explain to people what the news means to them.”

The evening continued with Wendy Tokuda. She has a rich history of over 40 years as a fixture of primetime television news reporting for KPIX 5. She told the audience that she originally became interested in news because of a lack of representation of Asian American news reporters.

She recounted how she felt it was an event when she saw an Asian American female reporter delivering the news. “My father would go, “Everyone come in front, Barbara’s on,” she said about a reporter. Later, she got to visit the newsroom of that reporter, where Tokuda found her calling. “I watched her for a while, and I thought, this is where I want to work.”

Tokuda recalled the competitive environment of the TV newsrooms of bygone eras. “I was expected to compete with the newspaper,” she told the room. “If the newspaper broke a science story or a medical story, I would be called in and they’d go, ‘How do you think they got that story?’ ”

Tokuda stressed her appreciation for the Bay Area. “It’s a smart market. It’s one of the smartest markets in the country,” she said. “You couldn’t talk down to them.” She contrasted her Bay Area experiences with her time working in Los Angeles, where she was assigned stories that reflected the themes of the network’s films and TV shows.

Since leaving Saint Mary’s in 2003, Tim O’Rourke has risen through the ranks of print journalism and now serves as the managing editor at the San Francisco Chronicle. He admitted that his job does not include much ink these days, as he is primarily responsible for SFChronicle.com.

O’Rourke oversees digital projects, photos, videos, audio clips, online newsletters, and social media for the outlet. He credited much of his early success to faculty members like SMC Professor Rosemary Graham. “Professor Graham, Rosemary, actually got me a sit-down interview with Diablo magazine,” he said. With Graham’s blessing, he pursued an internship with the magazine and began his career.

O’Rourke bounced around the Bay Area and eventually landed at the Chronicle. He started with the print product and worked myriads of jobs on that side, “from a breaking news editor, to a front-page editor for a while,” he said. “I actually got to write about beer for a while, which is a good job if you can get it.” O’Rourke graciously thanked SMC for “putting me on the path to work with words.”

The last speaker, Craig Lazzeretti, has reported in the Bay Area for over two decades. Lazzeretti, a veteran of print journalism, has most recently worked as metro editor for the East Bay Times. He won a Pulitzer Prize as a member of the team that covered the Oakland Ghost Ship fire, which led to the death of over two dozen people.

“I fell in love with newspapers at an early age,” Lazzeretti said. “I really fell in love with the written word.” He expressed his dismay about the current state of news reporting. “Within the last five years, with the advent of smartphones, print has become an afterthought. Print papers are continuing to struggle,” he said.

Lazzeretti explained the news industry’s business structure. “There was a business model as such that advertising is what drove these businesses, drove our businesses. And the advertising was always going to be there, as long as you could convince people to buy your product.” He lamented that this is no longer the case.

Following the introductions, Sachowitz and Cadiz asked questions about the current state of the news industry. Butler spoke about how to avoid fake news. “It’s only fake news once you share it,” he said. Tokuda continued on that topic, emphasized how important the truth is in reporting, which was echoed by the other panelists. O’Rourke talked about the need to create new ways to reach the audience through interactives. Lazzeretti said he believes that outlets need to understand their readers to stay solvent.

Tokuda summed up the state of investigative journalism: “One of the things that is important to understand is reporting costs money. Investigative reporting is really expensive.” Journalism will always come with a cost, the panelists emphasized. When the cost of uncovering the truth gets too high, and citizens are no longer willing to pay it, will liberty exist along with it?

For more information on the state of journalism, go to Statista at https://www.statista.com/statistics/183408/number-of-us-daily-newspapers-since-1975/.