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Mercury News reporter Castañeda on the importance of talking to people

October 21, 2020

Posted by Mariam Ahmed

Leonardo Castañeda

Leonardo Castañeda graduated from San Diego State University with a degree in journalism before starting work in investigative and accountability journalism for a nonprofit news organization in San Diego.

Castañeda now reports on small businesses, income inequality and demographics for the Mercury News in San Jose.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring young writers and reporters?

LC: Focus on developing an expertise beyond writing to broaden your understanding of concepts like economics, history, or political science. Widen your skill sets by picking up interests in data journalism or photography.

Q: Social media has upended the traditional media landscape. One of the great challenges it creates is authenticity and malevolent actors. How do think journalists and reporters should deal with the rising tide of misinformation?

LC: I think journalists need to be acutely aware of the ease of spreading misinformation or of misinterpreting accurate reporting on social media and build in workflows that try to limit that.

Q: What are some of the best practices from journalism’s past that you feel need to be utilized now?

LC: Talking to people one on one. So many errors or misinterpretations can be prevented by picking up the phone and calling the parties involved, instead of relying on crutches like social media. Even during the current pandemic, going out to do on-the-ground reporting (in a safe and responsible way) helps reveal that what was inferred from the comfort of our (home) offices is perhaps a fraction of the lived reality. Giving people space to tell us their stories directly is simply better journalism and in turn leads to more powerful stories.

Q: What do you see as some of journalism’s biggest potential pitfalls? And what gives you hope for the future of journalism?

LC: I think the ongoing financial challenges within the industry means journalists can’t cover everything we used to, and we risk as an industry misreporting or underreporting issues in an effort to do everything with shrinking resources. But the new generation of reporters are invigorating a sense of writing for the voiceless and approaching issues of equity, inclusion, inequality and more with nuanced, fresh eyes.

Q: Where do you get YOUR news from? Which publications do you like to read?

LC: I primarily seek out local sources. Besides The Mercury News and East Bay Times, I’m a subscriber to the San Francisco Chronicle and the Los Angeles Times. I’m a regular listener of KQED’s news broadcasts and podcasts, and I often go to independent weeklies and nonprofit news organizations like Mission Local and El Tecolote in San Francisco, the brand new Oaklandside in the East Bay, and San Jose Inside in the South Bay.

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