What are you doing on the Web?

If you look at today’s paper, the prosecutors were recommending a jail sentence in the case of Dharun Ravi, the guy who was involved in the Tyler Clementi situation. What that reporter was instructed to do was the minute you get that recommendation, file two paragraphs for the Web. Let people know that more is going to come. Get it up there. If there’s a press conference, go to that next. If there’s something to be read, do that second. Think Web first. To the extent that we can: be quick, be current, interact with readers.

And we can establish vibrant blogs that readers turn to—let’s say in Trenton for state politics, and for esoteric areas that are hugely popular on our site. We have a pet blog, because pets are a big thing here. We have a blog about the New Jersey Devils hockey team—incredibly popular. It’s really the only team left that flies the New Jersey flag now.

Here’s an example: A young black man was killed by police bullets last year in a town called Garfield. The circumstances were partially known but largely unknown. He showed up voluntarily at the police station, he was there for quite a while; they handcuffed him to a pipe for certain times, and at other times left him un-handcuffed. Then he just darted out of the station, led police on a chase, wound up in a private garage, and was killed by two cops firing guns. They said he was menacing them with tools from the garage. No one knows what happened fully.

Jennifer Borg, our general counsel, went into court to get the tape of his time in the police station, and she won, so we got great police reports and we got the tape. There were great stills that appeared in the paper, but that tape of him darting him out of the station was absolutely remarkable, and that was a Web moment for The Bergen Record, I’ll tell you that.

What excites you about covering New Jersey?

Doreen Carvajal and Stephen Castle did a terrific job when I was at the IHT of digging into the budget of the European Union. It’s close to $50 billion 50 billion euros a year.* They dug into who’s getting them. Why are they dispersed the way they are? What are the political forces?

What excited me about that story—I could trace it back pretty easily to covering Fort Lee and Edgewater, New Jersey. It was getting into the town deeply, understanding the storyline of the town and what made it tick. What made that town that town? How did that manifest itself in the town’s politics and budget? What were the slices of life that exhibited what was special about the area we’re in? All of that traveled through my whole career.

I grew up on the Lower East Side. When I came to The Record, it was the first extended time I walked through suburban streets. Areas have their identities. They have their cultures. There’s a particular air they breathe. When you look at what it means to tease out the identity of this area to project it and enhance it—to the extent we can do that, we are really doing our mission.

We’ve had great stories since I’ve been here—about Governor Christie’s contacts getting lucrative jobs at the Port Authority, about ways that you can question the state budget, about the mis-portrayal of SAT scores by different colleges around here. In terms of fabric of life, we had a running story about a turkey that lived in the central town traffic triangle of one of our towns for years, and it disappeared one day. We found out what happened. We traced it through its recovery from an animal shelter. Then there was an issue about whether it should stay more safely in the shelter or go back to the traffic circle it called home.

Mike Hoyt was CJR's executive editor from 2001 to 2013, teaches at Columbia's Journalism School and is the editor of The Big Roundtable, a startup that is a home for narrative writing.