John Hughes - Notes & Quotes

John Hughes is the editor and chief operating officer of the Deseret Morning News in Salt Lake City. He is former editor of The Christian Science Monitor. Before joining the Deseret Morning News he was a professor of journalism and director of the International Media Studies Program at Brigham Young University. He served as U.S assistant secretary of state, assistant secretary-general of the United Nations, and chaired presidential and Congressional commissions on international broadcasting. John has received a Pulitzer Prize, the Overseas Press Club award and is the former president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

I recently had the chance to meet John Hughes, who held a brief Q&A/Seminar with the staff of our student newspaper. Though he spoke primarily about the newspaper business, most of what he saids translates over to any field of writing. Posted here are a selection of direct quotes from the seminar, and some very brief notes touching on each.

“You probably aren’t going straight from college to the Times.”

Start small, and then move up. This is an established industry, which means you’ll have to work your way up. To do this, you’ll need to be ambitious. Go for opportunities aggressively. Show initiative. Work for it.

“Newspapers aren’t there to give you an opportunity. They’re very self-centered; they want to know what you can do for them.”

Professionals know that this is a business, not a hobby.

Research any market or publication before you approach them; if you can’t actually do something for them, you’re wasting your time.

Query like a professional.

Be absolutely professional about contacts, editors, money, deadlines, edits, rewrites, etc.

Don’t just act like a professional, write like one too.

“Reporters are strange animals.”

Mr. Hughes spoke for a moment about how difficult it is to keep reporters from working more than 40-50 hours a week, saying that often, they’ll want to keep writing into the night, just because they love what they do.

Be passionate about your profession. Use that passion.

Love writing well, being complete, being accurate and thorough; when you love what you do, and do it because you love it, you can go far.

“None of you are going into journalism for the money.”

Yes, there is money in our profession, but it’s rare that anyone gets rich. Do it because it drives you. Do it because you live for it.

“Everybody is owned by somebody.”

“I don’t mind photographers who push the envelope, so long as they do what they’re told in the end.”

You work for the people that pay you. The only way you get paid is by meeting an editor’s needs. If you can’t do that, you’ll never see print and you’ll never see a paycheck.

“You must, absolutely must, keep up with technology in this business.”

As writers, we’re blessed to see writing opportunities coming up in every form of media. We have to know these new areas to take advantage of those opportunities.

The more versatile the writer, the better.

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