This interview features Paul Hurley, a senior editor for the Visalia Times-Delta (a newspaper company located in Central California). Paul was gracious enough to spare some time and answer some questions via email, and he did so very impressively. I am planning to break the interview up into a two-part post. You’ll be able to read the second half of the interview next week.
The Goods (Part I)
Luis Bonilla: You work for the Visalia Times-Delta. Please share with us your job title and the type of work you do for the newspaper company. Also, you mentioned to me that you teach journalism. Is there a specific niche of journalism that you instruct to your students?
Paul Hurley: I am the senior editor for Community Conversation for www.VisaliaTimesDelta.com. They used to call me the Opinion editor. I would write the editorials, edit letters and columns, select other features for the Opinion page, such as the cartoon, and occasionally contribute a column.
But the newspaper business is changing rapidly. Everything is going online. Like other newspaper companies, we are trying to attract readers to our Web site. My job is now to stimulate and promote interaction with the newspaper, not just through letters in print, but online through blogs, story comments, polls, and other feedback. So I also write a blog now for the Web site, manage the forums, set up blogs and recruit new bloggers, etc.
We also have an innovative program at the Times-Delta called 210 Connect. A local church, First Presbyterian, bought a vacant building downtown, 210 Center Avenue, and renovated it into a meeting place/cafe. It has a number of spaces for meetings, concerts, and other events.
Once a month, we hold an open public forum on a single subject at 210. We invite experts to address the topic and the public to engage in conversation. We have a person blog simultaneously on our Web site so the conversation is continued there. And we encourage others to comment and get involved. We have had forums on faith, growth, the foreclosure crisis, hunger, water quality, and others. Several members of the community have initiated different actions in response to our forums.
As for advising students: Yes, I have taught journalism for about the past 10 years, off and on, at a local community college. One course is for aspiring reporters. I advise them to obtain all the communication skills they can, including electronic ones, as well as experience in blogging, editing, video, and Web page maintenance. The future of daily journalism is clearly going digital.
LB: What initially persuaded you into the media industry?
PH: I like expressing myself in print, had studied English and enjoyed the stress of writing daily and on deadline. It’s also a great way to learn about issues, people, the environment, and everything else.
LB: You mentioned in an email that the newspaper industry is basically on its last legs. Do you feel that there will come a time when newspapers will be come obsolete because of the Internet? What about print media as a whole?
PH: Print media will survive, but it will probably become a specialty product or a niche product. Instantaneous digital transmission has too many advantages over print for print to remain an effective form for news, where the latest information determines the value of the product. Newspapers, and other print media, will adjust so that they contain depth and analysis that isn’t affordable through online or digital transmission.
Print will also continue to be valuable for its graphic capability, portability, and personal impact. People will end up paying more, however, for what will become more and more an elite as opposed to a mass medium.
LB: Do you think that the Internet, with the advent of blogs and forums that anyone can write, has watered down what’s considered reliable news? Has the accessibility of “publishable” material on the Internet changed how the consumer expects information?
PH: Nicholas Kristof had a great column in the New York Times last week entitled “The Daily Me.” It’s not an original idea, but he proposed that, as people rely more and more on blogs and online news reporting that is tailored to their interests, they will also become less likely to discover or accept other points of view. The result is a populace consuming media that merely confirms their beliefs (or prejudices) and avoids having those beliefs challenged by media with a wider scope.
You can see that happening already: Conservatives watch Fox News. Liberals watch MSNBC. People consume the media expression that they are most comfortable with and that is the one that confirms their beliefs.
Obviously, this is dangerous in a democracy as a society that relishes the free exchange of ideas, but you can see it politically in the polarization of the nation into “red” versus “blue.”
I believe the pendulum will start to swing back once we have traveled so far down the road of mindless partisanship that people begin to realize that their ideas are worthless if they are not challenged by the opposition. Imagine this country if there had no Hamilton to answer Jefferson or vice versa?
People have always had junk news alongside “serious” news, and when the issue gets important, they have always recognized the difference. So I am not worried that blogging will “water down” the news. There are really only a minuscule fraction of successful bloggers out there compared to the total number of blogs, and some of them are actually good.
It won’t be long that people recognize that there is no substitute for critical thinking: Just because you have a computer and screen name doesn’t make you a respected critic; your gut instincts are no substitute for learning and experience; buying a movie ticket doesn’t give you the credentials to comment on “Duplicity” to a wider audience than your wife and your dog.
As mentioned before, the conclusion of the interview will follow next Monday. I would like to thank Paul for his insights on both print and online media. If you have any comments on what is posted so far, please feel free to leave a comment below.