“On Guard” With Robert Huschka, Executive Editor of The Detroit Free Press

“This isn’t science,” announced Robert Huschka, executive editor of the Detroit Free Press during his Saturday afternoon talk on design and the changing face of journalism. “It’s an art.”

Huschka is a media jack of all trades. He’s worked in journalism since age 15, when a high school teacher noticed his poor work ethic and recommended that he join the school paper. After receiving a degree in journalism from the University of North Dakota, Huschka worked in design and copy editing for the Minot Daily News, the Grand Forks Herald and The Kansas City Star. Now, he’s executive editor of the largest daily paper in Detroit — and, just like his career path, he’s determined to be a bit unconventional.

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Images provided by Robert Huschka

For one, Huschka tackles his role as editor differently than others might. He gives an extraordinary amount of freedom to the in-house designers at the Free Press, trusting them to make sound editorial judgments in the absence of editorial oversight. He pushes his reporters to think outside the box when they construct their stories, posing questions like, “What’s the best headline you’re going to be able to put on that story?” A former designer, he also places a lot of weight on a story’s visual content, seeking to maximize its potential within a three-dimensional space. More than anything, though, Huschka has taken it upon himself to work alongside — rather than against — the tide that is incrementally replacing print publications with digital ones.

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Huschka knows that digital journalism has, in many ways, replaced print publications. During his talk, he noted, “We’ve had to continually bleed work out of our print product.” Nonetheless, he also recognizes that print publications, for many people, are still a vitally important source of news, pointing specifically to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. The Detroit Free Press issued a resource guide to every household in the city, offering recipes, information about water pick-up locations, important phone numbers and more. In cases like these, said Huschka, “there’s still something tangible about print.”

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The motto of the Detriot Free Press is “On Guard for 185 Years.” Though he has been at the paper’s helm for less than a year now, Huschka himself has also taken up the mantle to be on guard, challenging norms within design and editorial positions and print and digital journalism.