Mike Hoyt, 54, is executive editor of Columbia Journalism Review (CJR). Hoyt attended the University of Missouri School of Journalism. His first
job was at the Charleston, Missouri, Enterprise-Gazette, followed by The
Home News, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, The Record, in Bergen County, New
Jersey, and Business Week. He was a free-lance magazine writer for a
number of years. At CJR he has been associate editor and senior editor. He spoke recently with JournalismJobs.com about CJR's mission.
JournalismJobs.com: Columbia Journalism Review has always had a perception of being a sleepy, serious academic journal.
Are you aware of those perceptions, and what are you doing to make it more topical?
Mike Hoyt: I am aware of those perceptions. I think they are based on a
magazine that no longer exists. We're not your father's Oldsmobile any
more. One problem we have is I think we hide our light under
a bushel basket. Brill's Content publicized itself a lot and had major efforts in
that area. We don't do enough in today's world to push ourselves.
I'd like to do more. If people who think we're dull would pick up the
magazine, they would see otherwise.
Our next issue, for example, is one I'm quite proud of. I don't think there's a
dull article in it, and there are a lot of articles. Yeah we're serious -- and some people
aren't serious and aren't interested in real journalistic issues and events
-- but I don't think we're dull. We avoid academic writing like the
plague. We're about reporting and writing.
JournalismJobs.com: Couple of years ago the now-defunct Brill's Content took media criticism and
put it in the mainstream. Were you concerned about how you were going to
compete with them, since CJR was at the forefront of media criticism?
Mike Hoyt: I think Brill's Content was good for us. It did put us on notice. Brill's
initially did some very good stuff. Competition is great -- it's good for
you. It did cause us to raise the bar. This
might have happened with or without Brill's, but we realized our readers are
just like readers everywhere -- they just don't have time for stuff they're
not vitally interested in. They will say, "Gee, I really should read this
CJR," but they won't unless it's really good.
just got to be well-written, current and vital, and for our readers it's got
to be sympathetic to their position. They're going to read what they're drawn
into. You can't just be dutiful anymore. I think we knew that anyway, but
Brill's kind of drove it home. We're trying to produce a magazine that
people want to read, rather than they should when they get around to it.
That's the goal, and I think we're a very different magazine than we
used to be, a better one.
JournalismJobs.com: Is Columbia Journalism Review's job any easier now that there's less
competition (Inside.com switched to a pay format, Brill's Content folded,
several niche sites lost funding and closed)?
Mike Hoyt: It's not any easier because everybody is covering the press these days to
some degree. When CJR first started, nobody really was. It wasn't much of a
subject 40 years ago. Now you just click on Romenesko, and you see
dozens of stories about the press everyday. There are media columnists and so
forth. It makes it more important for us to step back and try to be
thoughtful and thorough as best we can and try to do a longer look with many
angles. That's part of the reason why we've kind of gone to themed issues
and to longer in-depth, thoroughly reported pieces. At the
same time, we try to be as timely as our format allows, publishing six times a year.
We're much more timely than we used to be.
JournalismJobs.com: Will Columbia Journalism Review always have a future?
Mike Hoyt: There have always been reasons to worry about the financing of CJR.
David Laventhol, our publisher, and Tom Goldstein, our departing dean, have
tried to address some of the financial problems and they've had some
success. I don't think it's the kind of magazine that attempts to be
wildly popular, and it will always have a struggle. You just have to have
some faith in the readers and in the University. David has
given this magazine a real shot in the arm. He's a great editor, and one of
the inventors of the style section of The Washington Post. He's got a real
track record. I think he and I see the magazine similarly. We
want to produce a
magazine that's serious and people want to read, one that they actually can't
wait to pick it up.
JournalismJobs.com: Is there a greater need for a publication like Columbia Journalism Reivew
than ever before?
Mike Hoyt: Yeah, I think so. We try to be something the industry listens to. And the
industry is so important. Not to be corny, but the quality of democracy
really is linked to the quality of the press. We try to have one foot inside the press,
and one foot outside, so that we're both understanding of the problems that
journalists face, and outside of it so we can be critical. If we do that
right, people listen to us and we do what our job is, which is to
encourage quality journalism, and that's important.
JournalismJobs.com: Has journalism lost any credibility because the cable news outlets are
running the same stories over and over again to attract more viewers (e.g.
the missing teen case in Salt Lake City), and as a result, other media
outlets have to run the same story so they are not left out?
Mike Hoyt: I do sometimes worry about news becoming like wallpaper -- so
omnipresent that its impact is lost. When it is everywhere, people train
themselves to tune it out for their own sanity.
JournalismJobs.com: Has there been more jingoism in reporting since the events of Sept. 11th?
Is this good for journalism?
Mike Hoyt: September 11 changed us all in ways we don't even fully understand yet. Of
course there was some jingoism, still is some, but especially right after.
That's always the case in war, and we have to be careful to maintain the
distance that is required to be honest brokers of information.
September 11 has probably made a lot of us more serious, too. A small
example, but I bought myself a very large world map. There's not much
excuse any more for not trying to know the world. It was an incredible
wake-up call about the fragility of things, of human life, especially, and
a reminder of the importance of what we do as journalists. It's hard to
separate the short-term effects from the permanent, but I'm sure
journalism changed that day and, on balance, for the better. We're going
to look at some of that in our next issue.
JournalismJobs.com: What sort of future does news have? Are we seeing more of an entertainment
value creep in?
Mike Hoyt There will always be a demand for news. It's just a human instinct to want to
know what's going on and to want quality discussion. The problem
comes when it is more profitable to feed other demands, for weak,
lightweight stuff, in the name of a higher margin. And there
are other things to worry about, like consolidation. We have a
piece in the next issue that purports to look back from the year 2020,
when corporate consolidation has moved to its logical end and there's
just one media company controlling everything. It's kind of a funny
piece, but also a dire picture. Good journalism gets built up over
years. It can be lost very quickly. You just have to tend it like a garden.
JournalismJobs.com: What's the biggest challenge facing journalists today?
Mike Hoyt: I think to produce material that's both significant and something that people
want to read and watch. People
are really time-pressed. They are really impatient with boring, dutiful stuff. And yet
it's so easy to write about Monica Lewinsky endlessly, but so lazy in the
end. So the challenge is to be interesting about stuff that matters. I think
it's a bigger challenge than it used to be.
JournalismJobs.com: Is there too much press about the press? Has coverage become more gossipy?
Mike Hoyt: There's a little too much about us as people, as opposed to about what
we do. Yes, I think it has become more gossipy. A little gossip is always fun, but too much and it's like eating nothing but dessert. You don't feel that good after a while.
Copyright © 2002 JournalismJobs.com. All rights reserved.
Other JournalismJobs.com interviews:
Louis Wiley, executive editor, PBS Frontline, May/June 2002
John Sasaki, reporter, KTVU-TV (Fox), San Francisco, March/April 2002
Dan Fost, reporter, San Francisco Chronicle, February 2002
Carol Guzy, photographer, The Washington Post, January 2002
Roger Cohn, editor-in-chief, Mother Jones Magazine, December 2001
Mike Luckovich, cartoonist, Atlanta Journal-Constitution -- November 2001
Lisa Chamberlain, editor-in-chief, Cleveland Free Times -- October 2001
Ben Fong-Torres, former reporter and editor, Rolling Stone magazine -- October 2001
Raul Ramirez, news director, KQED Radio -- September 2001
James Daly, former founder and editor, Business 2.0 Magazine -- August 2001
James Fallows, correspondent, The Atlantic Monthly -- July 2001
David Ignatius, executive editor, International Herald Tribune -- July 2001
David Talbot, founder and editor, Salon.com -- June 2001
Ed Fouhy, former CBS, ABC and NBC news executive -- June 2001
Linda Cohn, anchor/reporter, ESPN -- May 2001
Sol Levine, former producer, CNN -- April 2001
Charlie LeDuff, reporter, New York Times -- March 2001
Pierre Thomas, correspondent, ABC News -- March 2001
Gene Roberts, former managing editor, New York Times -- February 2001
Sydnie Kohara, anchor, CNET.com -- January 2001
Lowell Bergman, former producer, 60 Minutes -- January 2001
Joie Chen, anchor, CNN -- December 2000
David Plotz, Washington Bureau Chief, Slate.com -- November 2000
Christopher John Farley, senior writer and pop music critic, Time Magazine -- October 2000
Bob Edwards, news anchor, National Public Radio -- October 2000
Sharon Epperson, CNBC correspondent -- September 2000
David Maraniss, reporter, The Washington Post -- April 2000
Wolf Blitzer, anchor, CNN -- March 2000