As the executive editor for the Savannah Morning News, Susan Catron ensures that her media organization tells factual news. Catron and her staff provide truthful news in order to keep Savannah informed and educated.
We spoke with Catron to talk about the role of journalism in society today.
Tiger's Roar: What drove you to major in journalism?
Catron: It was something I’ve always wanted to do. I always felt that you could make a difference. As you know... an informed public is absolutely crucial and it takes credible journalism to make it happen and you can change the world. It’s a tough world right now. It needs more journalists than ever, more people paying attention to the news, and educating the public about the role we play and the role they play in the democracy. Without that, we run into trouble. I think that part of our problems these days, in the disconnect people, is the lack of understanding and that’s something we can fix.
TR: Before moving to Georgia, you worked on a plethora of various news assignments such as Sports Editor and Copy Editor. What made you decide to move and work for the Savannah Morning News?
Catron: Well, there is a lot of change in the industry. Savannah is a beautiful city. It had a very good and experienced news staff. That is a good draw. If you can live somewhere you love and work with a group you can respect, it’s a big deal.
TR: I read one of your Twitter re-post about the terms, “fake news” and “alternative facts”. How do these terms affect your journalistic views?
Catron: Let’s dispense the term, “alternative facts." There are no alternatives to facts. Facts are facts. That is, and I’ll say this very succinctly, a bulls*** term. If the sky is blue, it's blue. It is not green. There are no alternatives unless you’re on a different planet. That’s not right. So, let's look at manipulation of the news. Let’s look at fake news. People who are yelling “fake news” want fake news. A fact is not fake nor is it an alternative if you do not agree with it. News is news. If you don’t agree with it, it's still news. We don’t validate people’s beliefs, we just tell them what is.
So yes, there is two different issues here. One being that and the other issue is that there are people out there who are creating fake news just to get a rise out of people or to push an agenda. They are making up stuff. People have made up stuff for thousands of years. The problem is we have to have a public that is educated enough to analyze critically and we’re not teaching critical analysis. We are not anticipating that we think they would believe that, but we should because that’s human nature.
TR: What are some challenges you have faced or are still facing as the executive editor at the Savannah Morning News?
Catron: I’m facing the deterioration of critical analysis for my readers. We face the conflict everyday of people not wanting to hear different perspectives on a story; only wanting their own perspective validated. It’s a big challenge now. A part of this is perpetuated by different news outlets who take one side of an issue and just throw out the other perspective. That’s not fair. It's not the right thing to do. We are challenged everyday by the lack of education. We are challenged everyday by people who would rather be entertained than learn and be educated. We are as a society, probably, entertaining ourselves to death. That’s something that the editor of New York spoke about some years ago that we have been giving up education and other valuable things for entertainment's sake. I think this has come to pass.
TR: So would you say that these challenges affects the truthful “hard news”?
Catron: Absolutely it does because, now look at this, we got a guy in the White House who really knows how to manipulate the media. He’s a reality show guy. He’s also a billionaire, he can do these things and that’s how he does it. Like [Jan. 31], he [announced] a Supreme Court pick with a TV show. Seriously? So of course it does. It affects everything. Everybody comes at it differently.
TR: You were a former tutor for the service organization, “Teen Success Club," and you are also an active member of the Georgia Master Gardner organization as well. In juggling other news outlets, what is a typical work day for you?
Well, I get up early and I read. Then I come in some mornings at 7-7:30 and some mornings I come in at 9, depends on the day. I stay until 6:30-7 or 8 o’clock at night depending on what’s going on during the day.
I work on the business pages as well so I try to get them done. I’ll answer my phone calls and I will have readers with any delivery problems or any other problems they may have. I always have some meetings, either community meetings or community call meetings. I work with staffers in various departments and I work throughout the building with other departments in distribution, production, marketing, the magazine and others. I also supervise papers in Bluffton, South Carolina, Beaufort and Jasper County. So I talk to those editors on a regular basis. I try to check with everyone everyday, see how I can help or if I need to get out of their way and troubleshoot a lot of things during the day and I read copy. We try to plan ahead and see what we are doing.
TR: You mentioned that you were an adjunct instructor at Armstrong State University. How do you feel about the merging of Armstrong and Georgia Southern University?
Catron: Well, it's really too early to tell. I like the small campus atmosphere of Armstrong, but I also know that Georgia Southern brings a lot of resources. So it's all in how it's handled. I’m not going to judge until I see how it shakes out. I hope they would keep the Armstrong campus intact, but I also know that it's going to be hard for a lot of students to go to Statesboro who came to Armstrong because of the small atmosphere. It's going to be very hard on certain students. Although, it strengthens the program. It makes things a little more accessible that might work out. I don’t know. I’m waiting to see how it goes.
TR: You began working at Savannah Morning News in 2005. What are some major things that have changed since then?
Catron: Everything has changed since then. The economy fell in the tank in 2008. Our staff is not the same size. At that time, the website was very, very separate from the newsroom. Now we are all together. I had a lot more technological responsibilities. We now have the capacity to do video. We have multimedia capabilities to report stories on many levels. Technology has made so many things possible. Now a smaller staff means I can’t do as many things, but we are able to focus pretty well and there are a lot of gifted people here. I also didn’t have the extra papers then. I had one paper and no website. Now I have five or six other responsibilities on the website.
TR: With your schedule being over-capacitated at times, how do you make time for your family?
Catron: I have an incredible and understanding husband and I don’t have any kids for a variety of reasons. If I were a mom with a lot of kids, I don’t think I could do it probably but there are people here who do it everyday and they do great work. They are amazing. They are my inspiration because I don’t really have an excuse. I need to work. I can do these things. I can give it more times than others might. If you’ve been given the way to do things, you should do them well.
TR: What is your favorite thing about working at Savannah Morning News?
Catron: It's hard to say. I think it’s the wonderful people I work with. They’re pretty amazing actually and they care very much about our mission in journalism. I never have the same day twice.
TR: In the media field, you have to know how to handle certain situations under pressure. Do you have any advice or attributes that you feel would help others succeed in the media platform?
Catron: I think staying focused on the facts and not letting emotion guide your judgment. I think that’s a big deal. It's easy to get caught up in things. You can’t allow that because if you do that, you won’t do your job well. Let’s say the election, it was a very emotional election for both sides. I’ve never seen this many people as fervent about a candidate and care about an election, which is not a bad thing. You can’t get caught up in that if you’re doing this job. You can have your opinions. You need to be neutral. You can recognize your own bias, but you have to work past them.