The independent student news organization of Nicholls State University

Pulitzer Prize winner speaks to students about digital journalism

March 30, 2018

In town to receive an outstanding alumni award, Cory Haik, a three-time Pulitzer Prize winning digital journalist and current publisher for Mic, spoke to students on her advances in the growing field of digital journalism at 2 p.m. on Mar. 21 in the Le Bijou Theater.

Haik said she always wanted to be a journalist, and the blend of entertainment and news together fascinated her.

After graduating from the department of mass communication at Nicholls State University in 2000, Haik said she found herself practicing code and learning more about the digital aspects of the field. Haik went on to work as a digital journalist at the Times-Picayune in New Orleans for her first job.

Haik said that Web 2.0 became a fundamental shift in how people were communicating. The new understanding that people had something to say would give publishers and journalists the opportunity to interact with their audiences.

The concept of blogging in the newsroom was opposed at the start. Although it sparked interest in Haik, she said no one else really cared.

“They let me be in charge of it,” said Haik.

Working as the web producer, she would update the site daily. However, she said she knew the real journalism was happening on the other side of the office without her.

“I had to be a reporter in my own newsroom,” said Haik.  

When Hurricane Katrina hit, the Times put up a webpage for traffic reports with the hopes that people would post their commuting stories.

According to Haik, the Times-Picayune staff rallied. Cutting and pasting reports, they worked 24-hour days.

The traffic reports did not stay for long before the web forum changed into cries for help. People would post details about family members and ask if certain people were safe.

Haik said that she returned home one night, and saw a printout of a blog she had posted being used by the coast guard to help find people. She said that was when she realized that “tech and journalism together are really powerful.”  

“This is the kind of journalism I want to do. I am committed to this,” Haik said.  

Haik was part of two Pulitzer Prize winning teams while at the Times-Picayune in 2006 before moving on to work at the Seattle Times. She said that she felt the Seattle Times needed to move toward online content.

“This medium-sized national newspaper [needed] to get online. There is so much that they could do. There is so much power within their brand of journalism to be unlocked and do good in the word,” Haik said.

Haik said that they had a website that was not very engaged in the community. She said she liked the experimentation available.

Haik’s third Pulitzer Prize came from the distinguished local reporting work done at the Seattle Times. After multiple cops where shot down in a coffee shop in Seattle, the news team had to find a way to cover the story.

“The realization that the people knew more about the location of the suspect was groundbreaking,” said Haik.

Although Haik’s executive editor at the time did not believe Twitter should be used for journalism, he gave in to her idea. He sat in the middle of the newsroom, and as information was verified, he would tweet it out.

After that success, Haik said they turned to Google Wave, a service that let users work on the same content object. The community engaged with live maps of where the suspect surfaced, and he was eventually found.

“It was an incredible collaboration from the community,” Haik said.

Next in Haik’s professional career, she moved to Washington D.C. to work for the Washington Post. She was told that the Washington Post was trying to merge print and digital operations and did not know what to do. They needed Haik to lead the digital transformation.

In an attempt to cover a bombing in Russia, Twitter was faster than anything else, but all of the information was in Russian. The tweets could be translated in Google Translate, but in order to

see the tweets in real time, they needed to be embed on the website. This proved the need for hackers in the newsroom, Haik said.

“It was very cool to be nerdy. If you knew how to code, you knew how to build stuff,” Haik said. “Journalists and developers together are amazing. It was a movement to build a bunch of consumer experiences.”

Before leaving the Washington Post, Haik helped to create a mobile forward product line that essentially created a new Washington Post.

“It was very visual and a very beautiful display of national news,” said Haik.

Haik stayed there until Mic, a millennial-focused national publication reaching around 70 million people a month, called.

They asked her how to take professional journalism, traditional reporting with integrity and substantive storytelling and match it with social, digital and native storytelling built for audiences that are just on their phones.

“[I told Mic] I’ve been trying to do that for a long time. I would love to do that,” Haik said.

As a publisher at Mic, she oversees the editorial teams, the analyst teams, pieces of the business side and content development.

“All the things that users touch and feel effectively is my world,” said Haik.

She said it is an exciting time to work at Mic, as it is a company focused on building a product specifically for digital platforms.

“Traditionally, what was told through a bunch words are told through a combination of motion graphics, photos and illustrations, images, video and text all put together. This the future,” Haik said.

When asked about advice for upcoming journalists, Haik said leave no stone unturned.

“You have the opportunity to provide context that otherwise would not exist, so talk to strangers, talk to the people who are actually consuming it and see what they really want,” Haik said. “Spend some time figuring out what you are pouring yourself into.”

Haik said she plans to continue this digital transformation of the mobile world. By the streaming of these platforms, using correspondent journalists who relate to the people and the improvement of what has already been accomplished, Haik is working toward the next stage of digital journalism.

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