Meet Eric Heyl, a seasoned local journalist and editor for Patch. During our discussion, Eric and I talked a lot about what’s going on in the news industry these days and what it’s like to be a reporter. He also shared one of the most memorable experiences of his career and why he loves Pittsburgh.
As field editor, Eric explained that Patch is very different from a traditional news platform. If you’re unfamiliar with the outlet, it’s a network of hyper-local news sites that currently serve 1,232 communities, including the Pittsburgh neighborhoods and suburbs.
Eric and his associate editors are focused on providing residents with valuable information while creating a safe space for neighbors to have meaningful conversations. Eric stated, “We try to be an integral part of the community – a place where residents can talk about problems in their neighborhood.”
Check out the full interview below.
Tell us more about you and how you became a writer?
I’m a Pittsburgh – I grew up in Mt. Washington and live with my family in Squirrel Hill. I had many options out of town, but I could never leave it. Pittsburgh is my home.
As a child I devoured newspapers. I was an avid reader of the Pittsburgh Press and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and as I got older I started reading newspapers from other cities. The whole process fascinated me. When it was time to go to college, I studied journalism at Duquesne University.
They have a long history of reporting community news. Tell us more about your career path.
After college, I started at Gateway Press, which printed 18 weekly community newspapers. I spent my time there with the Penn Hills Community. I decided to leave when I got the opportunity to work for Gannett in the North Hills Community for a newspaper called the North Hills News Record. I later switched to community coverage for the Valley News Dispatch before taking on my role on the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. I did anything for the Trib, but most of the time I was a columnist and editor for the newspaper. As the company downsized, I was fortunate enough to find my role at Patch.com.
What does your role at Patch include?
Working at Patch is fundamentally different from my previous roles in newsprint. In fact, I had to learn a whole bunch of new skills, which was such a valuable experience. As the solo field editor for the Pittsburgh area, in addition to writing the stories, I also draw photos, write the headlines, and work with fellow field editors to share stories. We have a very talented team across Pennsylvania, so the Pittsburgh Patch can share a plethora of important statewide and national topics.
Tell us more about Patch.com and what makes it a unique platform.
The patch platform is not just a news platform, but a community-based platform. It was created with the goal of being interactive so that community members can create a free profile, upload information, and have important conversations with their neighbors. We encourage residents to post, ask questions, and share their opinions. We want to know what people are curious about so we can help them answer their questions.
What stories would you like to cover and how do you find these stories?
People care about their communities. As a resident and a parent, I care about local news and what’s happening in my neighborhood. I want to know what is happening to school districts, local businesses, and community organizations. This is what we care about to make sure we offer valuable information.
My routine often consists of checking breaking news, reading executive boards, and trying to read as much email as possible. Today I woke up to 500 emails in my inbox.
The news business is changing dramatically – it is certainly not what I imagined newspapers or digital media to be five years ago. As the industry is evolving rapidly and the staff in the newsrooms continues to be drastically cut, everyone who works in the company has to work quickly, efficiently and creatively. That requires us to think of new ways to get the news out and motivate people.
What’s one of your most memorable stories?
Shoot the tree of life. I’ve lived in Squirrel Hill for decades, so it was difficult at first to fathom the idea of mass murder in my neighborhood of my neighbors. But as a journalist, I stood next to many of my industry colleagues to do a very difficult task: to put aside my personal feelings in order to get the news out in the most effective and responsible way. I remember standing shoulder to shoulder with reporters from Turkey. It wasn’t easy, but recording such a story was a privilege.
How has the pandemic changed your work?
It was a major impact. Allegheny County has daily updates, so I went to great lengths to publish daily articles, including weekends. With a community focus, we share the impact on local restaurants, bars, school districts, and other businesses. There is no shortage of stories.
What do you like to do for fun?
I’m a fantasy football fan, but I’m not very good at it. I like hiking and exploring the city parks, but my favorite stress reliever hobby is restoring old woodwork. Nothing else relaxes me more than sanding a piece of wood and turning it into something new. I spend most of my summer weekends on my porch working on wood projects.
As a native of Pittsburgh, what do you like best about our city?
The neighborhoods. I think it’s great that Pittsburgh has a wide variety of personalities spread across individual districts. No matter where you go – Mt. Washington, Brookline, Squirrel Hill, Bloomfield – people are close. We are so diverse and yet all Pittsburghers.
When people have a story idea, where can they share it?
If you have any news that affects a neighborhood I want to hear about it. Please email me at email@example.com or send it to Pittsburgh Patch.com.
– Robin Rectenwald, WordWrite