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Lee Habeeb is the Vice Pres­ident of Content at the Salem Radio Network. In 2015, he began the radio show, “Our American Stories with Lee Habeeb.” Before joining Salem and helping nationally acclaimed hosts like Hugh Hewitt succeed, Habeeb had a radio show with Laura Ingraham.

How do news­papers survive in the digital age?

I think they have to do things that can translate to digital, that means things that can be repur­posed in mul­tiple formats. So any­thing we’re doing in (radio), we need to turn that into text that people can read and scroll. And by the way, people like to read and scroll. On the Hugh Hewitt Show, which is one of our national shows at Salem, when he does long inter­views, it turns out when you capture the text of those inter­views and put them on the website, it has become the number one driver on our website and we get a lot of people on the website to read those inter­views because they neither have the time, not the incli­nation to listen to them. We’re turning the text of those inter­views into money — that is we’re putting banner ads next to it, we’re gath­ering data from our people about what inter­views they’re reading and clicking through. And most important, they’re staying on our web­sites longer because they’re reading some­thing long form. So now Hewitt is actually doing longer inter­views because the longer the interview is, the longer the text is and the longer the text is, the more time people are spending with us as opposed to someone else.

I would say more fea­tures, more stories about stuff that people, your campus com­munity cares about: love, death, life, alzheimer’s. This stuff is hap­pening all around campus life. Somebody in somebody’s family has alzheimer’s right now and somebody’s having to deal with that, and there’s a story with that that would connect with a lot of people. And the next thing you know, they’re reading about what hap­pened with the student council, even though they might not have cared what hap­pened with student council. Because print’s not dead. Print’s alive and it’s going to con­tinue to be alive as long as it’s rel­evant to people’s lives.   

Why are fea­tures deemed to be so unim­portant at many papers today?

You know, when you’re in a business, looking at why your com­petitors may or may not do things is some­thing I have rarely spent time on because they may have their own biases, they may have their own lack of resources, or their actual beliefs may be such that they’re actually costing them­selves money. And by the way, they really won­derful thing about fea­tures is, and I actually believe this is another aspect of sto­ry­telling that is ignored. You can call it the letter to the editor. Right now, or the old days, the way that people came in and joined their paper was by writing a letter to the editor. And usually it was about some­thing philo­sophical, or some­thing they didn’t like, or some­thing they wanted to correct. And I always thought, wow, what a silly use of this person called the com­munity and the reader. The reader has stories too — bring them in. You’ve got to fact-check them. You’ve got to make sure they’re true. But you know what the cost would be to bring a reader’s story into your news­paper? Very small. So the question becomes if you’re the pub­lisher and the editor of the paper — what do you really think the purpose of a paper is? And if you’re high minded and you think it should only deal with the important things of the com­munity and it needs to come from the editor and the pub­lisher down to the people, well then you’re going to make a lot of mis­takes. But if what you think a paper is, is that it’s a thriving part of a com­munity. That serves the com­munity and tells the community’s stories to the com­munity, then I don’t under­stand why you wouldn’t have an abun­dance of fea­tures and you couldn’t find them in very low cost set­tings. I’m in an endeavor in radio where I”m finding all kinds of stories. And for nothing — for zero cost, I’m finding some of my best stories.    

Do you think that a liberal arts edu­cation sets people up to be better feature writers?

Well, I think there are two things. I think: A. everybody has a great story in them, whether they have a great edu­cation or not. But if you’re going to reg­u­larly write fea­tures, not just your own; in the com­munity, I think everyone’s got a story. Every single human being has got a story — I deeply believe this. And if we can unearth it, that’s a journalist’s job. I think what a liberal arts edu­cation allows you to do is that it gives you enough breadth and depth of life expe­rience through reading. My goodness, you can expe­rience a lot of life by just opening up a book. And I think that gives you the philo­sophical and I think the empa­thetic power to attack and approach people from every walk of life and connect the dots. If you have the proper edu­cation, and I think a liberal arts edu­cation will be the cool and smart career thing to do as it relates to how to apply that training to future life. If you try and learn; if you want to study up on what the newest tech­nology is in terms of Facebook or Instagram, or. That will change every five years. But the ele­ments that make a great story and the nature of who that story teller is, and who can do it over and over again, I believe that is the person who has the widest and deepest breath of curiosity and knowledge.