Journalist and San José City College alum Marcos Bretón was born and raised in San José and attended San José High School where he had his first exposure to journalism working on the San José High Herald thinking it would be a fun class to take.
It was at San José City College under the tutelage of instructor Art Carey where his love for journalism truly developed. He then transferred to San José State University and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism where he first landed a job at the Los Angeles Times with their San Diego Bureau.
Similarly to City College alum and professional journalist Dan Nakaso, he also moved back to San José to work with the San José Mercury News
after working at the LA Times right out of San José State. After two years there, during which he had gotten married, he and his wife were talking with a friend who worked at the Sacramento Bee and mentioned how much he enjoyed working there.
On a whim, they both decided to apply to the Bee, and both were hired at the same time. Bretón has worked at the Sacramento Bee ever since and is currently the McClatchy News California Opinion Editor. Today, he and his wife and two teenage daughters call Sacramento home, though his connection with San José is always present.
In celebration of San José City College’s centennial, we had an opportunity to talk with Marcos about how influential Mr. Carey and City College were in sparking his passion for and pursuit of a flourishing career in journalism.
I always enjoyed writing. Initially, I went to Evergreen Valley College before I went to San José City. I always tell the story that when I was registering for classes, the counselor asked me what my major was. At that point in my naïveté, I didn’t realize I could have said undeclared, but I felt I had to come up with something. Since I enjoyed being on the high school paper, I said journalism as my major. The counselor then said, “Journalism, is that with a G or a J?” That’s how my journalism career began.
A semester thereafter in January 1982, I ended up at San José City. I feel like San José was where I really fell in love with journalism, and where it became real to me as a career opportunity. I had been taking some classes at Evergreen, but I was very impressed with the journalism program at San José City, which I’m proud to say is still in place and still thriving.
I come from an immigrant family. My parents, who are both deceased now, were both from Mexico. We were an immigrant family growing up in San José. My parents were not educated in this country, and they wanted that for their children, for my brother and myself. I think they thought, it would be great if my son would be a doctor. Yet, I always tell people, “There’s a reason I went into journalism,” because science and math were not my strengths.
When I told my parents about my interest in journalism, they were very supportive. I would imagine they probably thought, “What?” Because we just didn’t have a journalist in the family at that time. We do now besides myself, but we didn’t then. They were still very supportive, because they could see from early on that I was really into it.
1982 was a very long time ago, and I was a very young person then at 19 years old. When I was on the City College Times, at that point in my life I thought I wanted to be a sportswriter. So, I was covering Jaguar Sports for the school newspaper. Art Carey was our teacher advisor, our guru, our Yoda. He was all of that for us. He had this habit he learned back in the old days of journalism, where when he would drink his coffee, he would put sugar in it and stir it in with a grease pencil, which I thought then and now is kind of disgusting. But that’s what they did in newsrooms back in the day.
Left Picture: The City College Times Spring Semester 1983 – Marcos Bretón is third from the left in the front row; Right Picture: Art Carey with a student in the early ’90s when computers started being used.
I really caught the bug on that paper. Art Carey’s enthusiasm for journalism carried over to the students. He was very enthusiastic about journalism, and he would talk to us about working in newsrooms. As with any good teacher, I think his or her passion for a topic carries over to the students. That certainly was the case with me.
While Mr. Carey was our advisor, it was our paper. He was so good about letting us make our goofy mistakes and do our goofy things. This is back in the Stone Age when we would lay out the paper on these big sheets with sticky stuff on it and use Exacto knives. I say all these things to my daughters now and they look at me as if I have two heads or something. It just sounds prehistoric, because it was.
Mr. Carey was a big figure for me in terms of getting into journalism. There were other people after I left City who were influential, and it just wasn’t real yet in high school. But he was that first person for me. San José City was where it became real and where the idea popped in my head that, Hey, I could do this, and I could transfer to a four-year school and major in journalism, and pursue it as a career.
From him, I developed a passion for journalism, and an understanding of the role of journalism. Mr. Carey was really good at giving us concrete examples of journalism and how it was playing out at that time. How we needed to be wedded to the idea that we were serving our readers, and that we followed the truth wherever it led. All these things that I’ve been using for 30 plus years in the business are easier said than done. I certainly have seen examples in my professional career where people in the business did not follow these principles. But those were the principles he passed on to us. They seemed real, authentic, and admirable to me, so I thought that that’s what I wanted to be.
Another great thing about the paper, we used to have this rickety old classroom with this big room in the back. I don’t know if they are still in the same building at the same location, but it gave me a place to go. Being young, I had no point of reference. I was the first person in my family to go to college. So, I was learning as I went. It gave me a place to go where I was with like-minded people who were into the same thing. You’re in that next stage of your life where you’re trying to build up your confidence. It provided a port in the storm for me at a time in life when you’re trying to figure all these things out. You’re still a kid, but you’re not really a kid anymore.
I was in that building at all hours. I always tell people that it kept me off the streets. It was an incubator for me where I took my first little baby steps. I still have a clip file where my mother collected of all my little clippings. When I talk with students, I tell them how I go back every now and then, and pull it out and read it, thinking, Oh, my God, those were awful. I had no idea about proper sentence structure back then. Yet that’s what that time was for. It was to learn. It’s the school paper, but it is also a classroom and a place where you make all your mistakes.
One semester, there was a community college journalism conference in Sacramento, where we piled into Mr. Carey’s car and he drove us from San José. It turned out to be the first time I ever set foot in Sacramento, where I’ve now made my life. Who knew that San José City and Mr. Carey would open my eyes to a place where I was going to make my life? He exposed us to all these things that made journalism exciting and real.
I was telling a friend of mine, the stories from college that were so important to you at the time, they really get kind of hazy as the years go on. I remember Mr. Carey would edit them, marking them up with his red pencil, and it could be a traumatic experience. I laugh about it now, but it was my indoctrination to being edited. And it was a very good one.
I remember writing a lot about San José City’s track program. At the time, there was an athlete named André Philips, who, a few years later, won the gold medal in the 400-meter hurdles which I wrote about when I was at the San Jos José Mercury News. I told everyone then that I went to school with that guy. Before my time at City, there was another guy, Millard Hampton, who I remember watching on television win at the Olympics, and who later became a San José City police officer for some years.
I got to meet Bert Bonanno, who was the athletic director at the time. He was involved with the Olympics and a real charismatic figure. I used to talk to him, and I had no idea what I was doing. He was always very nice to me. The night that André Philips won his gold medal, I was at the San José Mercury News working the night shift. I was a brand new reporter, and I somehow tracked Mr. Bonanno down. He remembered me from when I was a student and wanted to talk, but I was really on deadline. Unfortunately, I never circled back to talk with him, but I was very proud of that and how San José City exposed me to so much.
I did publicity for the Bruce Jenner Classic. There is a funny picture of me where I had much more hair then than I do now and was far thinner, I’m sorry to say. I don’t know why, but I was wearing a New York Yankees jacket, which now I would never wear. What can I say? I was young. There’s a picture of me with a notebook and Jenner was talking to me while I took notes.
That event was a big thing. The track meet was covered on NBC Sports. That was the first time I ever heard of Carl Lewis, and the first time I ever saw him compete. I interviewed him and all these people who are in the USA Track Hall of Fame now. It was very exciting to be a part of that. I was in the Press Corps writing for the school paper, and it was the first time I got to mix with professionals, and I just loved it. I ate it all up. Even though, obviously, my skills were remedial in those days, as they would be for a 19 year old kid, but that was it. I had the bug after that.
I transferred to San José State where they have their own excellent journalism program. It’s where a lot of San José City people had gone and really thrived. So, that was a well-worn pipeline that I hope continues to this day. That whole experience at City prepared me so well for transferring to a very well-established journalism school that was also thankfully in San José, because I didn’t have a whole lot of money at that point, and I certainly did not have the funds to transfer someplace out of town where I would have had to pay for housing. I came from an immigrant family, so I lived at home until I was 22, had graduated from college, and got a real job so I could afford my own little postage stamp apartment.
I went to San José High, San José City College, and San José State. I don’t know how you could be more San José than that. After transferring to San José State in 1984, I graduated from there in 1986. My experience on the City College Times was seminal for me, because when I got to San José State, it wasn’t intimidating. I had been under deadline pressure at San José City. I had a heavy workload. I went from being the sports editor to then becoming the editorial page editor of the Times. And in my last semester, I was the editor of the City College Times for all these other people. And I’m sure I was a terrible tyrant to these poor kids who were with me.
When I became a professional journalist, I wrote a couple of books on baseball. Eventually, I moved from sports into news. But at the time, I thought I was going to be the next great sportswriter until my interests took me elsewhere after I got a little older and more mature. In the books I wrote, I always thanked Mr. Carey in the acknowledgments. Art Carey and his red pencil, because he would edit my stories with his red pencil on it. I tell you, there would be a lot of red on it. Back then we were writing on typewriters. I always asked my kids, “do you know what a typewriter is?” We were writing on electric typewriters, but typewriters, nonetheless.
I have occasionally lamented being so far from San José City, being so far from San José State, but I still feel connected to those places, because they really were so important in helping me get where I am now. And I would not be here, but for having Art Carey transfer his enthusiasm for journalism onto me.
It’s funny. The last time I saw him was the last time I visited San José City. I tried to tell him how I felt. He’s a very prim, proper guy, so I think it made him feel a little uncomfortable. I may be wrong, but I hope that he knows. I think he knows how much he meant to me, and how much that whole experience meant to me. Because what’s transpired since then, is a very satisfying career, and a really wonderful life of experiences. I’ve been able to travel all over the country and all over the western hemisphere on assignments, having more fun than I should have been allowed to have.
I’ve always felt like I was happier than my friends who weren’t in journalism, where every day is different, and I never know what’s waiting for me around the corner. And with great pride, I know that when I call someone in Sacramento, there’s a little bit of fear on the other end. That’s supposed to be the role of the independent press, and that’s what I set out to do at San José City, and that’s what I’m doing.