A Q & A with TIME magazine’s senior breaking news editor.
By Kris Dreessen
Student survivors and activists from the Parkland school shooting. A group of the growing number of women who are running for public office. President Donald Trump. Serena Williams. All of these people have earned the cover of TIME magazine in 2018, one of the most respected news outlets in the United States.
A June 2018 cover image consisted of 1,000 drones, which lit up the magazine’s logo in the skies over Folsom, Calif. It was the first time a drone was also used to photograph a cover for an issue’s feature story, which explores the technology and innovative uses of flying workhorses, such as delivering blood to doctors in rural Rwanda, as well as privacy questions that come with their proliferation.
Geneseo alumnus Alex Fitzpatrick ’11 ran lead on organizing the editorial package and wrote articles for the issue.
“It has been a long time since there was a piece of technology hardware that is really new and revolutionary,” said Fitzpatrick. “Drone technology is revolutionizing the way certain businesses operate, the way Hollywood makes movies, and how lives get saved. We are in a world that has such interesting things happening. What’s on the horizon is even cooler and more world-changing.”
As senior breaking news editor at TIME, Fitzpatrick oversees all technology, business and science coverage, including managing a team of writers.
“I’m interested in getting stories that are deeper, and get beyond a spin,” he said, “and get to the truth of the matter.”
Fitzpatrick grew up in a news-literate family. There was always a copy of TIME and newspapers on the coffee table to read. At Geneseo, he was an international relations major and political science minor. The program was writing intensive, he said, and made him confident in expressing ideas. He also wrote opinion pieces for The Lamron, and was the news director and station manager at WGSU.
“Being station manager taught me a lot about organization, working with other people and embracing their ideas,” he said.
Hired for his tech savviness and know-ledge of politics, Fitzpatrick covered the 2012 presidential campaign for Mashable, an online media site. He later became deputy tech editor at TIME before moving to the role of senior breaking news editor.
Q. Why is it important for people to be informed about what is going on where they live and in the world?
A. There are obviously apparent reasons, like having information about candidates to go to the polls, but on a daily basis, it is important to know if you want to be a member your community. Having a good sense of the big issues that people are tackling and facing right now allows you to think, “What can I do to be a part of the solution?” Knowledge allows you to think about issues in ways that are beyond your day-to-day experiences, and better understand what others may face.
Q. More than 20 million people get their news from TIME magazine, weekly. How do you make it happen?
A. Staff members wear a lot of hats and get the job done, whatever the job might be. It’s a cool place to work in that regard. People are very good at being nimble and adaptable and getting the work done, well.
Q. According to the Pew Research Center, 1 in 4 Americans get their news online, which is very different from even a decade ago. Is there also a shift in what news gets covered and how news is covered?
A. It is easier to get news than ever before. With the nature of the internet, anybody can publish, which means people who were previously voiceless have a voice. That is unquestionably good. The flip side is that you have to be skeptical of almost everything you read. I think about that a lot in terms of what we assign and cover. We help people separate the noise from what’s important. TIME’s mission is to figure out what matters to readers and what they need to know now and for the future.
Q. How do technology and social media shape how you determine what is newsworthy?
A. We want to represent people from all walks and all facets of life. Over the years, you learn what is important to people. Our website technology allows us to see what stories people are visiting, such as ones about the endangered species act. A newspaper editor didn’t have this type of tool 20 years ago. Now, it’s becoming sort of a feedback loop; the audience shows us what they read and watch.
Q. What changes do you predict in the production or consumption of news in the next five or ten years?
A. The sheer amount of news will become increasingly overwhelming, but it’ll be equally important for people to keep up with what matters to them and their communities. Our challenge as journalists and editors will be in helping elevate the truly meaningful stories and information.