People With Passion: Andrew Huff

People With Passion: Andrew Huff

A People With Passion series

Chicago journalism

September 19, 2011: Andrew Huff

In the 12th installment of Jack M Silverstein's Chicago journalism People With Passion interview series, Gapers Block founder Andrew Huff discusses his vision of the Tribune, the Sun-Times, and online journalism.




I interviewed Alex Kotlowitz three years ago, and Alex was talking about how we might be coming up on a time where we don’t have a city newspaper, we don’t have print, and he was very melancholy looking at that…

I worry about the Sun-Times. Back two, three years ago, I would have been right there with Alex wondering if the Trib and Sun-Times were going to make it. I’m not so worried about the Tribune anymore. I think they get the concept of being online first. They are going straight there. The Sun-Times is too, but it’s a little bit more hobbled because of how badly it was mismanaged for so long. It’s struggling under quite a bit more of a challenge to its business. So yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised if two years from now the Sun-Times doesn’t exist. Maybe it is still online, but I’m not sure enough people read it online other than for Ebert and maybe Roeper for that to really carry.

But the Trib I think is really getting it. They have their apps team doing some really interesting work with data and presenting news in different ways. Their website is a lot better than it used to be. Certainly the younger reporters understand what a link is, and the tradition of crediting sources through links and online media, something that is completely foreign to traditional journalists, the old-school journalists.

The link is the currency of the web. If you don’t link to each other then what the hell do we have an internet for? That’s the whole point of the internet: linking. Joining in with all of the interconnectivity that the web offers is a good thing. There’s a line, sort of an edict by Jeff Jarvis, “Write what you know, link to the rest,” that I hope is the next phase of the transition of journalism to the web. If you go into google news and search for a topic, you’ll see 500 hits for some big news story of the day. And if you dig into that, it’s not actually 500 stories. It’s the same AP story or re-writes of the AP story over and over again. There’s no need for that. Newspapers shouldn’t need to waste time and resources doing their own version of or printing or republishing their own version of something that’s already out there. There’s no point in that. Just concentrate your money and your resources and your reporters on what you can report, you know? Link to that story in that Chinese daily or wherever the story is. On international stories, just link to where the story is happening. Link to the expert in that market rather than wasting time looking for a story on it.

So in that case, what do you see in two years, five years, ten years? If the Tribune is making it, what do you see the Tribune as? What would it be?

I think it would be great to see it be a combination of aggregation. Being a place like we are where you can go and get links to news around town, links to news around the world, but they’re concentrating their original content like we are on stories that affect the local market. The local audience. We sometimes get written off as an aggregator, and that’s simply not true. We’re linking out a lot, yes, but we’re not stealing content. We’re not reposting stuff. And we have at least as much original content on the site as we do links out to other stories.

Even though the journalism field, the profession, is catching on to the fact that online is just as viable and important and potentially reliable as a print edition of a publication, there’s still a little bit of a lag with the world at large thanks in great part to journalists’s derision of blogs early on, not realizing that they were criticizing a format and not an actual type of news. I teach journalism at a couple of schools now. I’m teaching online journalism at both Loyola and Columbia. And my students say, “Oh well, it’s a blog,” as if that meant they could dismiss it.

But if you look at it, what’s a newspaper online? It’s news articles, posts, published in reverse chronological order with the latest story at the top of the page and a permanent link to that article. And now, thanks to blogs, usually there are comments – that you probably shouldn’t actually read on a newspaper site because they’re vile. They’re basically a blog. They’re using more sophisticated CMS’s, but essentially that’s what it is. There’s no difference. And I think journalism has done itself a disservice by dismissing the format that they have now adopted whether they realize it or not.

Jack M Silverstein is an oral historian working in Chicago. His non-fiction novella Our President about Barack Obama's inauguration is available at Amazon. Say hey on Twitter @ReadJack.




Enjoy this interview? Click here for a longer version as Andrew discusses his path to Gapers and the importance of going online first.

Check back every Wednesday at Eye on Chi for more of Jack M Silverstein’s People with Passion interviews with Chicago journalists. Coming up in two weeks, November 9: Jane Hirt, Chicago Tribune.


(NOTE: The dates below refer to the date of the interview. The order is the date they were run.)

September 21, 2011: Chris Cascarano, Chicago News Cooperative, video producer

September 30, 2011: Christie Hefner, Playboy, former CEO

September 15, 2011: Alden Loury, Chicago Reporter, publisher

August 17, 2011: Steve Chapman, Chicago Tribune, editorial board and columnist

September 13, 2011: Kimbriell Kelly, Chicago Reporter, editor

August 26, 2011: Chuck Sudo, Chicagoist, editor

August 17, 2011: Clayton Hauck, photographer

August 18, 2011: Rick Telander, Chicago Sun-Times, sports columnist

August 15, 2011: Mick Dumke, Chicago Reader, investigative reporter

December 12, 2008: Alex Kotlowitz (re-edited August 15, 2011)

August 10, 2011: Mary Schmich, Chicago Tribune, columnist

August 4, 2011: Rick Kogan, Chicago Tribune, columnist

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