Tom Giusto is an Emmy award-winning ABC News producer who has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. His 35-year career with ABC News gave him a front row seat to America’s political history. Now living in Ponte Vedra, Giusto is semi-retired, still working a few days a month for ABC News and usually covering President Trump during his weekends in West Palm Beach.
What inspired you to become a journalist?
I was inspired to become a journalist when I was working at my college radio station at Columbia University. By that time, I had already been exposed to radio and television. I started working in radio in high school, and then one of my teachers in high school was also involved in television. So, she took me under her wing and let me observe her TV programs. I always wanted to work in television because I was fascinated by the medium. But first I wanted to work in the technical side of television. I started working in the news department at the college radio station, and I got very, very interested in news. It gave me a front-row seat to history. That was also the time when television news was very popular, and the anchormen were the kings. After college, I continued on and went to graduate school in journalism at Columbia. I was fortunate. From age 4, I wanted to work in television. Here I sit 60 years later, and I was able to work in television, and I was able to make a living.
What was your most exciting assignment?
At the time, every big story you’re working on is the most exciting story. When I started in New York in the 1970s, we had a big blackout. We also had the Son of Sam killer captured. The most significant story I probably worked on was Sept. 11, 2001. I was at the Pentagon after the attack and covered the Pentagon for the next 10 days. In fact, I went into the Pentagon with the TV pool the night of the attack. I can still remember how it smelled of smoke. In terms of important stories that I covered, I was the producer in the Oval Office with President George H.W. Bush the night he gave the speech after the Soviet Union fell. It was also exciting to go to Vietnam, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay. Maybe the most thrilling and dangerous thing I did was ride in a helicopter into Baghdad twice. I also once was in a motorcade along the “Highway of Death” from the airport into Baghdad. The stories I enjoyed most, however, were not the stories about politicians, kings and queens. They were about average, everyday Americans who had a story to tell and invited us into their homes because they thought others would benefit from their stories.
How has journalism transformed throughout your career?
I like to say I’ve seen my industry go from film to Facebook. When I started, we were shooting film, and that film had to be shot and processed. Normally, you’d get 10 minutes worth of film for a story, and God help you if you wanted to shoot more than 10 minutes worth of film. It was just too expensive. Because everything was so expensive at the time, the industry was limited to the people who had the money to do it. So, the networks had enormous influence back then, because the entire country just watched one of the three networks for their television news. We were the gatekeepers. We would decide what was important enough to put on the news and what wasn’t. That’s both good and bad. It’s bad because, who are we, a bunch of white, elderly guys, to decide what the country could see? The good thing about it is we made, for the most part, sensible decisions about what people would see. As the medium evolved to more of a digital style, and equipment plummeted in price, it opened the industry to everyone. Social media opened the spread of information to everyone, so the gatekeepers were gone. People could post things on Facebook, and it didn’t matter whether or not if it were true. Now, we have all of this bad information out there and available, helping to polarize the country.
How should consumers of media respond to this transformation?
When I was back in journalism school 50 years ago, Fred Friendly used to say, there should be a course in how to watch a television program, and a course in how to read a newspaper, because you had to know the background and where it was coming from. That was 50 years ago. Today, that’s necessary more than ever. People have no idea where the information they’re getting on social media is coming from. People today have to be much more careful about where their news is coming from and try to avoid only getting their news from sources that are more aligned with their way of thinking.
What do you enjoy most about living in Ponte Vedra?
What I like most about the area is its beauty. It’s a very nicely planned, well-landscaped, pleasant place to live, both for families and for older, retired people. You can drive around Ponte Vedra and not go anywhere that’s run-down, decrepit, tacky or seedy. The weather is a plus. You’re halfway between Jacksonville and St. Augustine, so you can draw on cultural aspects of both of those places. There’s a beach. There’s plenty to do. Ponte Vedra has high marks for me in all the areas someone would look for in a place to retire.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Outside of journalism, travel is probably what we do most. My wife and I have probably been on 60 cruises all over the world. That’s our primary way of vacationing. Not only the Caribbean, but Europe, Alaska, Polynesia. We’ve cruised around the Middle East, around the North Sea to St. Petersburg. I like to do a little sailing from time to time. I also like going to the beach.
Edited by Jon Blauvelt