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.

We’ve had terrific stories about high school athletics on the front page. We do have the No. 1 high school football team in the country—Don Bosco—in our area. But the great front-page sports stories also include the coach of the Paterson tennis team, who has a miserable record, like 23 wins and 230 losses. He goes through garbage cans looking for tennis balls. He’s teaching kids how to play tennis. A whole bunch of them are in college now or out of college, and they have a reunion for him, as the greatest coach ever. I’m getting teary-eyed as I’m telling you.

We have a really wonderful team of reporters. One of them is a woman named Lindy Washburn, who’s one of the best healthcare reporters in the country. She notices how many times around the area people take up collections for people who need healthcare. She uses that as a news hook. In her hands, it raises a larger, resonant issue—Why do people have to resort to that to get their health needs met? That’s a perfect marriage of local culture and a profound national issue. To the extent we do that, we’re doing our job. What more could you ask for as an editor?

Correction: The “Reluctant Savior” who rescued a homeless man worked in a tropical fish and aquarium store, not for an aquarium; and the European Union budget is 50 billion euros, not dollars. CJR regrets the errors.

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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.