| Home | Mike Hoyt, exec editor, Columbia Journalism Review -- July 2002
September 15, 2014

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 about CJR's mission. 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. 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.

It's 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. Is Columbia Journalism Review's job any easier now that there's less competition ( 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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 All rights reserved.

Other 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, -- 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, -- January 2001
  • Lowell Bergman, former producer, 60 Minutes -- January 2001
  • Joie Chen, anchor, CNN -- December 2000
  • David Plotz, Washington Bureau Chief, -- 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