The theme for former Time Inc. Editor-in-Chief John Huey's Tuesday, Mar. 25 speech at the University of Georgia is “The Media and Public Life,” although if Huey had a working title, he says it would be, “If Things Seem Too Good to Be True…
“I don’t really like the word “lecture,” so I don’t want deliver a lecture or preach a sermon,” he says. “My goal would be to sort of draw some lessons from 40 years in journalism that are both, I would hope, somewhat entertaining and relevant to life as we know it today.”
Photo Credit: Vincent J. Musi
Huey, who is fresh off a fellowship at the Shorenstein Center at Harvard University, will look at how journalism has progressed over the last half-century and will try to address or dispel some of the clichés and myths that prevail around the intersection of digital technology and journalism. In short, Huey says, “It’s a combination of anecdotal material, some analysis and a tiny little bit of prognostication.”
This will not be the 1970 UGA graduate's first time returning to campus to speak to an audience. In 2006, he gave an entertaining, lighthearted speech for the spring commencement ceremony that can be found on YouTube.
Huey has had a career in journalism that has included stints at the Dekalb New Era, FORTUNE magazine and the Wall Street Journal. He is a 24-year veteran of Time Inc., having served his last seven years from 2005–2012 as editor-in-chief. He was responsible for all of Time Inc.’s digital, print and video content, which includes the magazines People, Sports Illustrated, Essence and Southern Living.
After leaving Time Inc. in December of 2012, Huey spent one semester as a Shorenstein Fellow at Harvard University and co-created Riptide, a website jointly launched by Shorenstein and Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab that examines the collision between journalism and digital technology from 1980 to the present.
“I don’t have any grand information that will change their life,” Huey says, but adds that he has made observations into the world of journalism that may benefit students. “Journalists possess a lot of wholesale information, as opposed to retail information. And I think the main reason people, in the best of circumstances, bring themselves to listen to journalists is that we give them that insight into the wholesale information that we have.”
It’s the “story behind the story” insights that you could only get from a seasoned reporter and editor like Huey.
Huey is also an accomplished author, having written Made in America, which is the best-selling autobiography of Walmart founder Sam Walton—possibly another topic of discussion during his lecture. “It’s the biggest company in the history of the world. It’s pretty controversial and still growing pretty fast for something that big,” Huey says. “It attracts a lot of opinions.”
Huey says he will touch on the polarization of media, how media outlets have shifted either right or left from the middle-of-the-road type coverage of the industry’s heyday, which he calls regrettable. He also plans to discuss how online news outlets are becoming more specialized, catering to smaller niches as opposed to a general audience. “As the news package becomes unbundled from the traditional newspaper model where you had news, sports, fashion, food, all those kinds of things in one package, now consumers tend to go more vertical when they’re looking for a particular piece of information,” he says.
Such changes have rocked the journalism industry over the past decade. Huey's former company, Time Inc., for example, recently announced 500 layoffs—something he doesn't want to comment on. "I have a history of, when I leave somewhere, I leave it," he says.
Huey believes that news as a business was always propped up by bundling it with other services. “The future of an unbundled news product is really more the issue than whether it’s right or left or down the middle. That’s not a huge business issue,” he says. “It’s an issue, but it’s not really a business issue.”
WHO: John Huey
WHERE: The UGA Chapel
WHEN: Tuesday, Mar. 25, 4 p.m.
HOW MUCH: Free!