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William Paterson University's Official Student-Run Newspaper

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William Paterson University's Official Student-Run Newspaper

The Beacon

William Paterson University's Official Student-Run Newspaper

The Beacon

Advisor for the national award-winning chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists reflects on his reporting, and teaching career

Nick Hirshon is a journalism professor at William Paterson University and is the advisor of William Paterson’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Before becoming a professor, Hirshon was a reporter for The Daily News.
Advisor for the national award-winning chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists reflects on his reporting, and teaching career

Tommy Sherwood: Who are you, and what is your position at William Paterson?


Nick Hirshon: My name is Nick Hirshon. I’m an associate professor of communication. That’s my official title. Specifically, I’m in the journalism program, and I’m also the advisor of the William Paterson Chapter of The Society of Professional Journalists.


TS: Okay. What news organizations have you worked for?


NH: Well, as you know, the majority of my experience was at the New York Daily News where I wrote from 2005 until 2011 first as an intern while I was in college then writing full time while I was going to grad school and after grad school, but I’ve also written for the New York Times and as a  freelancer for The Wall Street Journal.


I worked briefly for a news website named DNA info that doesn’t exist anymore in New York City, that I have a few other places where I freelanced for my first journalism internship was at the New York Amsterdam News, which is one of the oldest black newspapers in the country. And that was a really cool experience working out their offices in Harlem and reporting on issues of importance to the Black community. So I’ve had a bunch of different places.


TS: What is your favorite memory as a reporter? 


NH: I mean, there are so many that come to mind. I wrote a series in 2008’s for the Daily News called History and Peril. I’ve always been very interested in American history. And I thought that the history of my hometown in Queens, New York, was largely being ignored. A lot of historic buildings were demolished. A lot of historic places don’t have any signage that indicates something special happened here. And I developed a idea for a series that would focus on sites that were in danger of being demolished or that just never had any recognition. And so we, you know, I, I featured different sites. I think it ended up being like 100 was a nine installment series. I have it all on my website. And through this history in parallel series, we looked at sites like the house where Jackie Robinson lived when he won his MVP award in 1949. The oldest continuously operated movie theater in the United States the Ridgewood theater in Queens, a building that used to be the home of the United Nations. And all of these sites that a lot of people reading the newspaper probably didn’t even know were in their backyard. So to me, that was really rewarding. Hit right on my sweet spot of history, and hometown. And doing work that felt important and then through that work, a few of the sites that we profiled did get landmarks recognition from New York City, they actually held government hearings, and cited the work that I did in the Daily News as being the reason why they looked into these sites more closely. So that was really exciting, and that some of these buildings are still standing because of the research that we did.


TS:Okay, why did you decide to become a professor?


NH: I think it goes back to some really good journalism professors that I had in undergrad and again at Columbia. When I was at St. John’s as a journalism major in my Bachelor’s program, I took a journalism class. Basic news writing with a professor named Calvin Lawrence, who worked at Newsday and we’d have his class at 730 in the morning. It ended at 9am. And then he would go to work a full day at Newsday. And I always thought that’s pretty incredible that he manages to do all this in a day. He was never looking, tired, rundown, he always had energy and seem very enthusiastic, very excited about journalism, and its meaning, you know, it’s public service and you know, getting things right. So, to me that really stuck with me. And then when I got my master’s degree, I started thinking, well, what’s the next step for me? And one is, well, once you get a Master’s, it opens you up to potential adjunct teaching opportunities. So I was an adjunct at LaGuardia Community College in New York City, and then at my alma mater at St. John’s. And spending time in the Daily News newsroom at a time when a lot of journalists are becoming cynical about the industry. Newspapers are dying. There’s not a lot of money to support good journalism anymore. So that was kind of discouraging at times because it felt like hey, I’ve just arrived on the scene here and now I’m being told that this career path that I’ve dreamed of for years is drying up. So instead, I mean, I still loved reporting but I also found I really enjoyed teaching, because then you’re working with younger people who are equally excited about the potential for the future, and have all these new ideas about how to tackle problems in journalism. And that all felt very rewarding because also I had a lot of experiences of the daily news that I felt I could share with students that might benefit from, you know, I’ve been through that before I did it. It was annoying.


TS: Did you make any sort of mistakes as a reporter that you strive to never see one of your students make?



NH: I’ve often focused on like two regrets that I have with Daily News. One was, so I was a reporter there. Again, intern slash you know, a full time reporter from 2005 to 2011. That was a period when social media was just becoming a part of society. And I did have a Twitter account that I started like 2009 The year after Twitter came out. I had Facebook, but I didn’t really use Twitter or Facebook that much to find sources or to publicize my stories. I look back and I think, Twitter especially. And some of it just wasn’t as advanced as it later became. But there were so many times where like, I was the first person on the scene of something newsworthy. And I could have taken a photograph or a video of that and sent it out to my followers, I think gained a pretty good following, and showing them something that nobody else was going to show them. But we just weren’t being encouraged to do that. At the Daily News. It wasn’t social media was not a priority. It was something that a lot of reporters had didn’t use very frequently. I don’t really recall anytime that editors were telling us, like, oh, yeah, make sure you put that up on, you know on Twitter or Instagram. Or something. It just wasn’t a thing. But I do regret like not having more of that because I feel like there was so many times I had access to people and I could have done like a separate interview or a lot of times like you write down a ton of notes and only a fraction of that gets into your story, but I could have put some of the other stuff into Twitter threads.


TS: As a journalism student, or even like a young reporter, who is your biggest mentor?



NH: I mentioned before, my first journalism professor at St. John’s who taught my news writing class, Calvin Lawrence, who worked then for Newsday, and now he’s at ABC News. I had an editor at The Daily News, named Paul Shin, who was my longest editor in the Queen’s Bureau, who’s still a friend of mine. He now works at ABC. We’re working on potentially having a WPS PGA Tour of ABC through Paul. He’s spoken at William Paterson before. And I think, you know, with the two of them, it’s like, you know, when you’re working with young people, you have to be gentle in certain ways. You have to understand they’re going to make mistakes. They’re going to do things at times that may be frustrating to you, because you’re like, that’s not the way to do it. Why don’t you know that? Well, they don’t know young people don’t know it yet, because they haven’t done it yet. And so I think that those guys got it. And Paul was very patient with a lot of us as reporters, but also called us out at times that we, you know, he thought that we were lazy or you know, didn’t do something the right way. So I think he was like the perfect mix of that. And I was very lucky to have him as an editor. And, you know, then, when I got into my Ph D program, my dissertation director was Dr. Marilyn Greenwald. And she helped me make that career transition from being a journalist to a journalism professor and understanding some of the nuances of what goes into teaching and doing academic research. She was pivotal in helping me develop the idea that became my doctoral dissertation that then became a book. My book we want fish sticks about the 1990 New York Islanders.



TS: So you’ve taught at other universities before… Does anything stand out about William Paterson students compared to other university students?


NH: I’ve never taught somewhere where students have faced such deep challenges as William Paterson students. I feel like William Paterson students are often working far more hours than students I’ve taught elsewhere. They have personal and financial challenges that are much different than student bodies I’ve previously worked with. And so there is a level of perseverance that has to be part of that. You know, when you William Paterson has a ton of first generation college students. And that’s exciting. And it’s also challenging because first generation students don’t have the benefit of a parent or someone in their family describing to them, Oh, I know, I went through college, here’s the kind of way to navigate it. They’re on their own. And they, in addition to like having to navigate that, while not having a lot of time to devote to it, because they’re working and taking care of their parents or sometimes their own children, or whatever else they have going on in life. It’s a lot. So I think the fact that there are students that I’ve seen, for example, under the WPSPJ who face some of those issues, and yet, say, I’m really committed to getting this career and I want to do this and I think journalism is important. It’s admirable to face so many challenges, and say, I’m not going to let it stop me. And that’s to me, my role is to come in there and say, and I’m going to try to help the can’t do all this stuff, but I can help with making connections or easing the way so that as you’re trying to get to that internship or job or whatever other questions you have along the way, that I can kinda like ease that struggle.

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