According to San Diego journalist Matthew Hall, if there are three things today’s journalists should abide by, they’re this: always be credible, be transparent and welcome the internet trolls.
But before Hall was engaging with the trolls in his comment sections or on Twitter, back when he was a high school and college student, he was just another aspiring writer. As a high school athlete growing up in Rockport, Massachusetts, Hall knew he loved sports and writing, but he couldn’t afford to taint his love of sports by becoming an unbiased sports journalist.
Still, journalism found its way to Hall at the University of New Hampshire.
“I was fortunate to come [to UNH] and write for The New Hampshire,” Hall said. “I started being a writer as a sophomore, wrote a bunch of news stories and rose up to be the arts editor. It was just a great experience.”
Hall, UNH ’94, returned to his collegiate and New England roots this week, along with the school paper he once wrote for, to share those valuable three lessons to journalism students while speaking as the 2017 Donald Murray Visiting Journalist on Tuesday evening.
As the editorial and opinion director at the San Diego Union-Tribune, Hall brought with him a fresh journalistic perspective as this year’s speaker.
“We haven’t had an editorial writer in a long time,” said Susan Hertz, an associate professor of English. “We thought it would be great to have someone speak on how to present a newspaper’s opinion.”
Beginning his career as a New England-based journalist, Hall transitioned from The Derry News to The Concord Monitor, covering everything from presidential primaries and politics to local schools.
Yet with connections and work in the East, Hall yearned for the West Coast, and not solely because of the New England winters.
One phone call later to his brother in California and Hall was off and running to the other side of the country, seemingly adding more meaning to the term ‘freelance writer.’
“Super risky move to move out there without a full-time job,” Hall said. “But it worked out.”
In San Diego, Hall utilized his experience from UNH and prior work at New Hampshire papers to build a career in California. His work became more intricate, asked more probing questions and filtered information to be more entertaining; he also came upon the realization that he was always learning.
Hall shared that sense of experience and craftsmanship to journalism students and faculty as the Murray Visiting Journalist.
“I think [Hall] is in a really interesting place right now,” said Tom Haines, an assistant professor of English. “He has worked in print, and been inside an organization that has undergone the digital transformation. I also think his experience in going from the news side to the editorial side is just really in the center of the dynamics in play right now.”
In his talk, titled “At Work, Not War: Trump, Trolls, Truth and Trust,” Hall echoed to audience members the importance of credibility as the biggest issue of today’s journalists, transparency as the new objective and internet trolls being, well, trolls.
“People turn to any particular journalist because they trust them,” Hall said, “Because they find in them a credible source of information, maybe entertainment, but a place where that reporter isn’t going to lie to them, but is also going to represent fairly.”
That’s where the trolls come into play.
“I think, importantly, journalists should address [trolls], or not let them make the narrative about the way they see it,” Hall said.
For director of the UNH journalism program Lisa Miller, that’s an important facet of Hall’s work.
“[Hall] talked about how important it is to reach out to the audience and to interact with the audience,” Miller said. “I think that’s a really important lesson.”
While Hall continues to write his own success in California, he still remembers and appreciates his time at UNH and how significant his time at UNH was.
“It was essential,” Hall said. “Without [UNH], I would not have taken the steps that I took in my career.”