In 2017, “commentary” often consists of talking heads shouting over one another on 24-hour news channels, or individuals flaming each other on social media or snarky blogs. But newspapers have a centuries-old tradition of providing both a venue for civil debate from the community and well-researched editorials on a position that have their basis in factual reporting.
Putting the emotion of an argument secondary to thoughtful analysis can be difficult under any circumstance, but especially in these times when the enormity of what is at stake seems to lend a sense of urgency that sometimes overtakes the facts. It takes a steady hand and considerable perspective — and willingness to consider all the arguments — to provide the best sort of newspaper commentary.
That’s why I’m happy to announce that Juan Castillo, a veteran newsman who has reported and edited at the Austin American-Statesman, Houston Chronicle and McAllen Monitor, will be returning to the Statesman to lead our editorial and commentary efforts.
Castillo most recently covered business news for the digital startup NerdWallet after leaving the Statesman in late 2013. During his almost 25 years at the Statesman, he led award-winning coverage of city hall, the environment and transportation as a metro editor, then spearheaded the newspaper’s nation and world desk through 9/11 and the beginning of the Iraq war. Castillo took a year off from the daily news grind for a prestigious Knight Fellowship at Stanford, where he studied U.S.-Mexico border history and culture, race and politics. Upon his return he became a senior writer for the paper for the projects team and then covered the census, growth, demographics and culture in Austin.
He’s got a wide range of coverage experience, from city hall to Washington, South Austin to the border, Round Rock to Barton Springs. Castillo’s time on the news side of the Statesman supplied him with a deep knowledge of our region. But more importantly, his time in our community has instilled in him a strong sense of mission about Austin and its residents — and a desire to make it a better place for all. That mission represents a varied populous, from the longtime East Austin residents left behind by the various tech booms and pushed out by the forces of gentrification to the Williamson County newcomers from California trying to find new roots in a vibrant town.
Editorials don’t reflect the opinions of the newsroom — or even the individual opinions of the handful of people on the editorial board. What they do reflect is the institutional voice of the newspaper, and Castillo will have to guide that voice through careful consideration of the editorial board’s research and analysis. He also has the role of reaching out for commentary that reflects a wide range of other opinions in the community.
When Castillo led a team of local government reporters in the 1990s, one of his initiatives was arranging a series of community meetings in different parts of town for the reporters to hear what was topmost on the minds of the folks in the various neighborhoods. As an editor, he was constantly reminding his team that the best stories weren’t going to surface on a city hall agenda but instead in the conversations with the people most affected by what city hall does from day to day.
That urge to listen first is one of many traits that qualify Castillo well for the role, especially at a time when more and more people are rushing to opinion without understanding the issues, and then talking over one another in the zeal to be right. He and his team will consider all the arguments, look for ways to draw in new voices, and use the pages of the paper and the internet to reflect the socioeconomic, ethnic and political diversity of the region, giving a wide range of people a podium to speak in print and online.
I hope you’ll join us in welcoming him back to the Statesman.