The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

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New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) shoots over Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr., rear, in red, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York on Sunday, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)
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New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) shoots over Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr., rear, in red, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York on Sunday, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)
Column | Former Villanova fanatic watches “Nova Knicks” take down Sixers in NBA Playoffs
By Aidan Kasner, Sports Editor • May 23, 2024
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By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • May 23, 2024

‘Hard work, persistence, red glasses’: Katelyn Polantz talks about media, democracy

Katelyn+Polantz%2C+a+senior+reporter+on+crime+and+justice+at+CNN%2C+during+the+%E2%80%9CPreserving+Democracy%3A+The+Critical+Role+of+the+Media%E2%80%9D+in+Alumni+Hall+on+Thursday+evening.
Nate Yonamine | Senior Staff Photographer
Katelyn Polantz, a senior reporter on crime and justice at CNN, during the “Preserving Democracy: The Critical Role of the Media” in Alumni Hall on Thursday evening.

Mark Nordenberg, chancellor emeritus of Pitt, began a conversation with Katelyn Polantz, a Pitt alumnus, asking her to describe her “journey” from Pitt to CNN. Polantz said a combination of “hard work, persistence, [and] red glasses,” got her to where she is today. 

“I had very few connections within the justice team at CNN directly … when I went to interview there for this job,” Polantz said. “But I showed up with red glasses and matching red shoes, and my boss still tells me that I walked out of the room and that’s what they all were talking about and said ‘We have to hire her.’”

About 120 people gathered in Alumni Hall Thursday evening to attend an event featuring Katelyn Polantz, a senior reporter on crime and justice at CNN, titled “Preserving Democracy: The Critical Role of the Media.”

The event included a discussion between Polantz and Nordenberg, chair of the Institute of Politics and director of the Dick Thornburgh Forum for Law and Public Policy, as well as an audience Q&A. During the talk, Polantz discussed the importance of truth as well as the current state of journalism and the impacts it has on American democracy.

Polantz, who grew up in Johnstown, said she transferred to Pitt as a sophomore from Westminster College and an adviser recommended she join The Pitt News. Polantz said she “really fell in love” with reporting and served as the paper’s editor-in-chief before graduating in 2009. She then became a local news reporter in southern Virginia.

After realizing she wanted a long-term and stable career, Polantz said she got a job with PBS NewsHour where she was introduced to writing about the legal industry. Polantz said this led her to find a job at a legal trade publication before her current job at CNN.

Following Polantz’s introduction, Nordenberg asked her, “Do facts and the truth still matter?” Polantz cited prosecutor Michael Marando’s closing argument in the 2019 federal trial of Roger Stone and said “truth matters.”

“I will never forget that rebuttal argument for how powerful it was,” Polantz said. “There are still institutions like journalism and the justice system in which evidence is sought after. Primary sources are pursued and secured and surfaced, and cohesive understanding of what happened is able to emerge.”

Nordenberg brought up how people in federal court can use the media to spread nonfactual information, something Polantz called “a problem” and attributed it to the lack of camera and audio recording in federal courts.

“There’s two issues that create a situation that make it difficult for truth and evidence to come out. One is, it’s very difficult for many people to observe a proceeding,” Polantz said. “The other thing is that there is, thankfully in this country, due process. But the challenge of that is that there are people who understand how to exploit the judicial system.”

Nordenberg shifted the conversation to discuss the public’s waning trust in the media and asked Polantz “how did we get here?” She recognized trust is declining, but said media companies are still “putting in the work” to do fact-based reporting and ask tough questions.

“I hope that people are able to continue to understand that journalism is something that’s vital for democracy,” Polantz said. “If it goes away, if those reporting traditions are lost, and if things are lost [like] local newspapers, student newspapers, student journalism classes, professors who are in the industry and passing on the knowledge of reporting to students — if those things are lost, the entire community suffers.”

When Nordenberg asked Polantz about ways the public can “distinguish between what are reliable information sources and those that are not,” she recommended reading a variety of publications.

“If there’s a story out there that you see and no one else is going with it … that’s a reason to be a little bit more skeptical,” Polantz said. “That isn’t to say that sometimes you’re out in front as an organization on a hot story, but I think that the big media organizations do an enormous amount to make sure their reporting is very solid and credible.”

Polantz and Nordenberg also discussed the state of the court system, the effectiveness of the Jan. 6 House Select Committee and threats of violence against jurors and judges before opening the floor for an audience Q&A.

When asked if she believed the responsibilities of journalists have changed over time, Polantz said while she doesn’t know if the responsibilities are changing, she emphasized the importance of people understanding the difference between opinion and factual reporting.

“One of the things that we’ve seen is this blurring of the line between opinion and fact, and I don’t know if that’s because primary sources are harder to come by on the internet or something like that, but I think there are still very responsible journalists out there and all kinds of organizations who want to do excellent reporting,” Polantz said.

Another audience member asked if it’s possible to overcome the “web of distrust and information,” and Polantz said news consumers are important in actively combating misinformation.

“I do think one of the things that happens, historically, is that our understanding of the facts of a circumstance tend to congeal over time,” Polantz said. “Over time, you kind of can coalesce around, have a factual understanding of something. Now that doesn’t mean that there aren’t things that have happened historically [where] our understanding as a country is incorrect or that incorrect things become part of the historical body, but … I do think there’s a through line from journalism to American history.”

After the event, Nicole Roberts, an employee at Highmark Health, said she liked how Polantz emphasized getting news from multiple sources and appreciated her thoughts on the future of media and democracy.

“We see all of this coverage and snippets of all of these different court cases, so it’s interesting to hear somebody who’s been sitting in the actual hearings,” Roberts said.

Paul Roberts, a retired Presbyterian minister and Nicole’s father, thought the talk was “very informative,” and liked how Polantz brought up the blurring between fact and fiction. He added that he agreed with her idea to add cameras to federal courtrooms.

“I think we need to change this and have video and audio so that people can hear exactly what was said or not as a source of truth so that we’re not hearing lies,” Roberts said.

Caleb Buzard, a junior politics and philosophy and history double major, noted Polantz’s talk as “really important.”

“I thought her comments on the need of media in reinforcing democratic institutions and democratic principles was vitally important, and I really appreciated the way that she emphasized that point today,” Buzard said.

Editor’s Note: The Pitt News co-hosted “Preserving Democracy: The Critical Role of the Media” and Katelyn Polantz is a member of The Pitt News Advisory Board. 

About the Contributor
Spencer Levering, Senior Staff Writer