SALT LAKE CITY — Jesse Hyde remembers arguing with a magazine’s fact-checker for 15 minutes about whether his piece could claim the sky was gray on a specific day.
“Even though I had the official weather report, and a source backing that up,” Hyde said, the fact checker contacted another source, and the source couldn’t recall that day’s weather.
That minutia might seem trivial, but for Hyde, an editor on the Deseret News’ InDepth team, it’s common. This attention to detail is the standard at many print journalism outlets. The general public, though, often doesn’t realize it, Hyde said. He’ll speak on these misconceptions, and of the importance of a free press, at TEDxSaltLakeCity, happening Sept. 8 at Kingsbury Hall.
Hyde’s path to TEDx didn’t exactly go smoothly — “I thought about quitting so many times,” he admitted. He spoke with the Deseret News about that bumpy road and what it takes to refine a TEDx talk from start to finish.
Founded in the 1980s, TED Conferences started as a way to examine the intersection of technology, entertainment and design. The events gained traction in the 2000s as online video-sharing services became commonplace. TED Conferences have since broadened the scope of their topics, and its organizing company, TED Conferences LLC, now licenses its name to independently organized TED-like events known as TEDx.
“I mean, everyone knows what a TED Talk is, but I don’t think I’d ever finished a TED Talk,” Hyde said.
Originally, Hyde planned to speak on “solutions journalism” — a growing field of journalism that tackles complicated social issues (education, traffic, opioids) from a different angle and tries to more fully engage readers in finding solutions.
As Hyde tells it, he faced a major learning curve. For one, he’s not a natural public speaker.
“When I was at college,” he said, “I was the type of guy where if I had a really important point to make, I would get very nervous for about 10 minutes before I made the point.”
He also specializes in long-form written journalism, not TED’s brand of concise 10-minute orations. As the TEDx preparation process unfolded, he started to realize what it would take to actually do it well. He couldn’t mail this one in.
For TEDxSaltLakeCity, its speakers regularly submit drafts of their talks to certain event organizers, who then give feedback. After three drafts, Hyde said he and organizers didn’t feel great about his talk. They told Hyde he didn’t seem that passionate about solutions journalism.
Hyde then realized two things: (1) He couldn’t present to thousands of TEDx attendees on something that didn’t inspire him deeply, and (2) the event organizers wouldn’t let him quit.
An idea worth spreading
If solutions journalism didn’t elicit Hyde’s passion, what did?
The idea of a free press, and its importance, did. But Hyde didn’t know if TEDx would go for it — they advise speakers to avoid overtly political messages.
“I actually don’t think what I’m saying is too political at all,” he explained. “I think it’s sad that it can be viewed as a political statement to defend the press.”
Once he went all-in on this new topic, Hyde said he his whole attitude changed.
“It flipped from, ‘I don’t want to do this,’ and complaining and whining about all the work it was and wanting to quit to, ‘This is a really cool opportunity to share a really important message.’”
In recent years, a number of Hyde’s friends and family have said they mistrust the press. For his TEDx talk, Hyde said he examines how and why this kind of mistrust is spreading.
I actually don’t think what I’m saying is too political at all. I think it’s sad that it can be viewed as a political statement to defend the press. – Jesse Hyde
While he’s willing to take ownership of some criticisms, Hyde said he thinks people are usually thinking about cable TV news when they criticize “the media.” The 24-hour cable news cycle, he claimed, “kind of creates perverse incentives to chase after stories that are going to get ratings instead of stories that actually matter.”
“To be honest, I don’t even feel like they do the same thing that I do,” Hyde said of cable news outlets. “And even CNN, most of their programming seems to be these panel shows where these so-called experts get up and just say what they think about stuff, and they haven’t done any original reporting. It’s kind of apples and oranges.
“I do hope that people understand there is a massive difference between a propagandist with big hair on cable news who’s just literally coordinating his message with the president, and a journalist who’s making no money and writing stories that puts his or her life in danger.”
Attention to detail
Finding the right topic was one thing. Learning how to deliver it to an audience was another. When it comes to public speaking, Hyde said “there’s no part of it that comes natural” for him. He submitted a few more drafts of his talk, got a final version approved, then went to an all-day workshop for the event’s speakers. They would present portions of their talk to a panel of speaking coaches. (He compared it to “American Idol.”)
For Hyde, it’s been a process of unlearning certain habits, like rubbing his hands together or rocking back and forth on his heels. He’s also been taught about voice modulation, helpful hand gestures and when and how to move around a stage.
There aren’t teleprompters at TEDxSaltLakeCity; speakers have to memorize their talks verbatim. In this final stage of preparation, Hyde has been giving his full, memorized talk to a panel of speaking coaches. There’s a final dress rehearsal the day before the event, and then it’s go time.
When he gets onstage at Kingsbury Hall, his talk’s every point, every gesture, every pause and every inflection will have gone under the microscope. It’s the kind of analysis he’d expect from, well, a fact-checker.
“And people (in journalism) who are caught fabricating stories, they’re not just fired, they’re pariahs,” Hyde said. “So this idea of fake news, as the president is pushing it, it’s a lie.”
If you go …
When: Sept. 8, 8 a.m.-4:15 p.m.
Where: Kingsbury Hall, 1395 Presidents Cir.
How much: $35-$100