Meet Eric Heyl, a veteran local journalist and field editor for Patch. During our discussion, Eric and I talked a lot about what’s happening in the news industry these days and what it’s like to be a reporter. He also shared with me one of the most memorable experiences from his career and why he loves Pittsburgh.
As a field editor, Eric explained that Patch is very different from a traditional news platform. If you’re not familiar with the outlet, it is a network of hyperlocal news sites currently serving 1,232 communities, including Pittsburgh neighborhoods and suburbs.
Eric and his fellow editors focus on providing residents with valuable information while creating a safe space for neighbors to engage in meaningful conversations. Eric explained, “we try to be an integral part of the community — a space where residents can talk about issues in their neighborhood.”
Check out the full interview below.
Tell us more about you and how you became a writer?
I’m a Pittsburgher — I grew up in Mt. Washington and live in Squirrel Hill with my family. I’ve had many opportunities to leave the city, but I couldn’t ever leave. Pittsburgh is my home.
As a child, I devoured newspapers. I was an avid reader of the Pittsburgh Press and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and as I got older, I began reading newspapers from other cities. The whole process fascinated me, so when it was time to go to college, I studied journalism at Duquesne University.
You have a long history of reporting community news. Tell us more about your career path.
After college, I started out at Gateway Press, which printed 18 weekly community newspapers. I spent my time there covering the Penn Hills community. I decided to leave when I got an opportunity to work for Gannett covering the North Hills community for a paper called the North Hills News Record. I later moved to covering communities for the Valley News Dispatch before landing my role at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. I did everything for the Trib, but the majority of my time, I was a columnist and editor for the paper. When the company downsized, I was fortunate to find my role at Patch.com.
What does your role entail at Patch?
Working at Patch is completely different from my previous roles in newsprint. In fact, I’ve had to learn a whole new set of skills, which has been such a valuable experience. As the solo field editor for the Pittsburgh area, I not only write the stories, but I also pull photos, write the headlines and work in conjunction with other field editors to share stories. We have a very talented team across Pennsylvania, so the Pittsburgh Patch is able to share a wealth of important statewide and national issues.
Tell us more about Patch.com and what makes it a unique platform.
The Patch platform isn’t just a news platform, it’s a community-based platform. It was built with the purpose to be interactive, so community members can create a free profile, upload information and have meaningful 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 answer their questions.
What stories do you look to cover and how do you find those stories?
People care about their communities. As a resident and parent myself, I care about local news and what’s happening in my neighborhood. I want to know what’s happening with school districts, local businesses and community organizations. That’s what we prioritize to cover to ensure we’re offering valuable information.
My routine often consists of checking breaking news, reading business wires and trying to read as many emails as possible. Today I woke up to 500 emails in my inbox.
The news business is changing dramatically — it’s certainly not how I envisioned newspapers or digital media transforming even five years ago. As the industry continues to evolve at a rapid pace and newsrooms continue to drastically cut staff, anyone working in the business has to work quickly, efficiently and creatively. That requires us to think of new ways to get the news out and get people engaged.
What is one of your most memorable stories?
The Tree of Life shooting. I’ve lived in Squirrel Hill for decades, so at first, it was hard to fathom the thought of a mass murder happening in my neighborhood, to my neighbors. But, as a journalist, I stood beside many of my industry peers to do a very difficult task: put my personal feelings aside to cover the news in the most effective and responsible manner. I remember standing shoulder to shoulder with reporters from Turkey. It wasn’t easy, but chronicling history like this was a privilege.
How has the pandemic changed your work?
It has been a significant impact. Allegheny County provides daily updates, so I’ve been diligent in getting out daily articles, including on weekends. With a community focus, we share the impact on local restaurants, bars, school districts and other businesses. There’s no shortage of stories.
What do you like to do for fun?
I’m a fantasy football fanatic, but I’m not very good at it. I like to hike and explore the city parks, but my favorite stress reliever hobby is restoring old woodwork. Nothing else relaxes me more than sanding down a piece of wood and turning it into something new. I spend most of my summer weekends on my front porch working on wood projects.
As a Pittsburgh native, what’s your favorite thing about our city?
The neighborhoods. I love that Pittsburgh has collective pockets of personalities spread throughout individual neighborhoods. No matter where you go — Mt. Washington, Brookline, Squirrel Hill, Bloomfield — people are close. We’re so diverse, yet we’re all Pittsburghers.
If people have a story idea, where can they share it?
– Robin Rectenwald, WordWrite