Episode 43: Newspapers and journalism with The Herald’s Phillip O’Connor
There is no doubt that newspapers and journalism are undergoing changes.
Phillip O’Connor should know, he has worked through many of those changes and continues to chart a course into the future for the Fourth Estate in his new role as executive editor of The Herald newspaper in Everett, Wash.
Until arriving at The Herald in the summer of 2019, O’Connor was a committed midwesterner by birth and then choice.
O’Connor started as a “15-er” (sports department clerk working for three hours at $5 an hour) , taking scores over the phone for his hometown paper, the venerable Kansas City Star (which also launched the career of Ernest Hemingway). After rising through the reporter ranks and various news beats, he moved a few hundred miles east across Missouri to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
It was at St. Louis where O’Connor says his mileage reports went from cross-town to round the globe.
“After Sept. 11, 2001, it was around Thanksgiving and my parents were in town,” O’Connor says. “I got a call from my boss; would you be willing to go to Afghanistan?
“And I say, ‘Absolutely.’ So I walk back to the living room where parents are and I say, ‘I guess I’m going to Afghanistan.
“And my mom says, ‘I raised an idiot.'”
After Afghanistan came reporting trips to Iraq, Bosnia, Israel and then Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake.
The common thread, O’Connor says, is local news.
“When I went to Afghanistan the first time, we traveled with a doctor from St. Louis and that was how we got across the border,” O’Connor says. “We told her story.”
After St. Louis, O’Connor went to The Oklahoman newspaper in Oklahoma City and the next phase of his career.
“At Oklahoma, I wanted to change my role,” O’Connor says, adding that he eventually oversaw breaking news, enterprise reporting and other areas of news coverage. “(And) instilling the digital culture in our newsroom, looking at the strategies and tools and storytelling methods. We were able to do amazing work that I’m very, very proud of.”
All of that experience has a bearing on O’Connor’s view of journalism, newspapers and his role at The Herald.
“Local content is what our readers are interested in,” he says. “I try to direct as much of our resources as we can toward local content. And, we need to have a digital experience that people are going to enjoy.”
As for the future, O’Connor shares his own thoughts on the current state of journalism: “I don’t think the public understands how dedicated hardworking committed the majority of people in this profession are. Todays’ journalists are more skilled than any generation we’ve ever had. The talent we demand from our reporters is pretty amazing.”
Episode length: 1:02:45
Kurt Batdorf is a Communications Specialist for Sno-Isle Libraries. Kurt brings years of journalism experience and perspective to his work, along with an array of interesting life opportunities including barging a house from Seattle to Mount Vernon and an inveterate love for Mazda Miata cars (Miata = Miata Is Always the Answer).
Jim Hills is the library district’s Assistant Communications Director, Communications & Marketing. Jim is a storyteller who claims to still have some ink in his veins from familial connections with, and previous-career infusions from, the newspaper biz.
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