The news is a vital part of our lives. You need to know what is happening. Being informed, whether it be about politics, arts, music or business is so very important. Knowing what is happening both locally and nationally is just part of being a good citizen. Even more important, is knowing that what you are reading is researched, vetted and presented truthfully. This is the key to an informed citizenry. From the first Boston News-Letter in 1704, then legendary Ben Franklin to the mythical reporting team of Lois Lane and Clark Kent to the acclaimed Woodward and Bernstein, the role of the press and the education of the people is still a national treasure and worth of being protected by the First Amendment of the constitution. We follow global news but the local news is what affects our daily lives.
Joe Kieta is the Editor and Sr. Vice President of News at the Modesto Bee and is the classic leader of the newsroom. You have seen this role glorified in many famous movies, but in reality, this is the person that matches the pulse of the news with the needs and connection to the community. Editors count on their reporters to find the key events happening, whether good or bad, and communicate it to a waiting public. Joe has deep roots here in the valley and was formerly editor of the Merced Sun Star where he and his wife started their family. Let’s meet Joe Kieta
ModestoView: The Modesto Bee is part of our daily lives; do you still feel the magic of delivering an entire paper daily?
Joseph Kieta: I certainly feel the magic, but the way that magic happens is different from the days when we only produced a print edition. The journalism itself is largely the same — reporters and editors digging for stories, making phone calls, poring over records — but the distribution methods and the tools we use are vastly different and constantly changing. We break news all day online and through social media, especially Facebook, where we’ve garnered more than 100,000 followers. We also provide videos and other multimedia, which has expanded how we tell stories. The magic happens, for sure, but it’s much more dynamic today.
MV: The goal out there is to “seek the truth”; just exactly how do you do that?
JK: Our team of reporters, editors and multimedia journalists are a dedicated bunch. We comb through documents, ask tough/probing questions, attend public meetings and verify the information we receive. We also show up at breaking news events like fires, accidents and natural disasters. It’s our job to arm The Bee’s readers with facts; this allows them to make informed decisions. Every person in this newsroom is committed to getting the story right — and if we make a mistake, we always correct the record.
That said, sometimes the truth can be a little hard for some people to handle. Many readers increasingly want what I call “journalism of affirmation” — where the facts are twisted to fit their particular view of the world. That’s not what we do at The Bee.
MV: What was it that inspired you to be a newsperson?
JK: It really started in high school in Solon, Ohio — a suburb of Cleveland where I grew up. Solon High had an incredible journalism teacher who inspired her students to write real truth-telling stories, and I guess you could say I got bit by the bug. I initially decided to pursue something else in college, but eventually got involved in the student newspaper and.. here I am.
MV: Other than the big global events, is there a particular news story that really got to you?
JK: I’m a local news junkie, and there’s nothing that gets me excited more than a good local investigative story. Garth Stapley’s 2015 “Justice Delayed” series about the murder trial backlog in the Stanislaus County Superior Court is one example of how The Bee can bring light to an important issue. Garth spent weeks digging through records to reveal what was happening. That’s some serious shoe leather. No other news organization other than The Bee was going to write that story. This is how we make a difference in the community. My job is to make sure we have an environment in the newsroom where ambitious stories are unearthed and written with regularity.
MV: Everyone has biases and feelings, how does one maintain their objectivity, especially in a community like ours that is so close knit?
JK: You’re right … Modesto is a very close-knit community, and it often seems like a small group of people have an outsized influence. I am very careful to position myself as an observer and not a participant; I’ve said “no” to joining clubs or other organizations because I want to maintain some separation and avoid being put in an awkward spot where a conflict of interest may arise. I don’t want anyone to think that a story was covered because the editor was involved in a particular club or activity. I’m certainly not an introvert, but I’ve said “no” to a lot of invitations because I want to be a dispassionate reporter. I expect the same of our news staff.
MV: The daily news cycle still revolves around a printed paper, how are you bridging the gap of the immediate need to know, video journalism and the traditional daily paper.
JK: The print news cycle has taken a back seat to the digital news cycle in The Bee’s newsroom. We now have a team of reporters and editors positioned from the early morning to the late evening hours to report news as it happens and to create multimedia, including video. These reporters work with others in the newsroom to develop content that fits two tempos — quick and breaking (fires, accidents, floods … any breaking news event) and deep and introspective (investigative reporting, stories that look beyond the headlines). Editors juggle between the two tempos and adjust coverage as necessary. In the past, we focused all of our energy on putting together one printed paper a day. Today, we’re able to produce multimedia and connect with our audience in ways that we never would have been able to do previously.
MV: What would you say to encourage young people and students to consider a career in journalism?
JK: I’d tell them that they have a special opportunity to help blaze a new trail for journalism. The work that’s happening now will lay the foundation for future journalists. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? The business model is still a work in progress, but the audience is growing and journalists can make an impact.
MV: How important is Sunshine Week and the Freedom of Information Act?
JK: I’m convinced that sunshine is the best disinfectant. The Bee is aggressive in its pursuit of records and the public’s right to know, even if it means taking our grievance to the courts. We’re just now pushing for records that the City of Modesto has been reluctant to release. Sunshine Week puts a spotlight on this commendable work. I sometimes wish that this would get more recognition, but we’re not looking for plaudits. Sometimes government leaders forget that they work for the public and that the people have a right to know what happens in the public agencies their tax dollars finance. We fight for this right to know.
MV: In 2017, what do you think the role of the press is?
JK: To seek and spread the truth. To set the record straight with facts. To shine light into dark corners.
MV: What are some of your most favorite Modesto experiences?
JK: There’s a lot to love. My most memorable experiences come from the incredible people who call this area home. People here are friendly and selfless — two qualities that can be lacking in other communities. I’m continually blown away at their generosity and willingness to do good. Culturally, the Gallo Center for the Arts and the State Theater are treasures. And there are countless other unique experiences that make Modesto special, like the Saturday farmers market, Concert in the Park, and Modesto on Ice (all in season).
MV: If there were one event that you wish would happen in our region, what would it be?
JK: Something that celebrates the area’s incredible diversity. It’s our greatest strength, but we don’t celebrate it nearly enough. It could start with a showcase of food from different cultures and grow from there. It also would help get people out of their comfort zones.
MV: Beatles or Stones?