Paula J. Hane: Breaking News
by Barbara Brynko
When Paula J. Hane left Information Today, Inc. (ITI) at the end of May 2013, it was big news. As news bureau chief of the ITI NewsBreaks, Hane left no stone unturned in covering the big trends in the library and information industry since she started in 1997.
Hane freely admits loving the scope of her job. "My career has involved two passions," she says. "One is my love of books and reading, and the other is my love of information technology for learning." Those two passions have become the driving forces that started early in life and continued through her decades in the workforce.
As a child growing up in Minnesota, Hane rode her bike to the public library each week and read voraciously. In college, she worked at a bookstore while earning her liberal arts/English degree, and then she went on to library school and interned at a public library and as an academic reference librarian in her "spare" time. But online searching captured her interest from the get-go.
"In those days, back in the early 1980s, we searched with an acoustic coupler," says Hane. "I'm talking barebones stuff here." As a self-proclaimed early adopter and promoter of PC and web technology, she found online searching to be the best part of the library job in addition to working with students and faculty.
While she was at Purchase College, The State University of New York, Hane started sharing her knowledge about PCs and software with the staff, teaching classes using her Osborne portable computer. When Hane started writing about public domain software for libraries in the early 1980s, Online, Inc. publisher Jeff Pemberton took notice and recruited Hane to edit DATABASE magazine (now EContent magazine) from 1988 to 1996.
Hane never strayed too far from her love of books and information technology and kept pace with her readership of librarians. In 1996, she left Online, Inc. to reduce her workload, but that didn't last. Before long, she moved on to another publication and discovered her new role in an emerging digital arena. "I started helping Dave Hoffman who was editor of Information Today at that time," she says. She began finding suitable columnists, editing manuscripts, and a host of "small
stuff." But when the news broke that MAID was acquiring Knight-Ridder Information, Inc. in November 1997, she worked with Hoffman on a more timely way to share the news with their readership instead of waiting for the story to make it into print.
"We thought, ‘This is hot news, how do we get this news out there?' and the idea for NewsBreaks was born," says Hane. And it just kept growing. Barbara Quint, former editor of Searcher magazine, joined the NewsBreaks team as a regular contributor at the end of 1997. When Dick Kaser joined ITI as vice president of content in 2001, the online news platform grew stronger, more stable, and more organized. In short order, it morphed into a twice-weekly online platform.
Since those first early days online, Hane has posted thousands of articles on the website. New controversial issues have emerged, companies have come and gone, and the scope of the news coverage has broadened to include a much larger information ecosystem.
"No one is more surprised than I am at how far we've come in what seems like such a short time," says Hane. "Think back about the companies we used to cover, such as AOL, Yahoo!, Myspace, and AltaVista." Google didn't appear on the scene until 1997, followed by Wikipedia in 2001, and Facebook in 2004, and since then it's just gone crazy, she says. The ITI News Bureau kept pace with the latest big trends, including copyright, privacy, open access, open government, open education, all new things that NewsBreaks has stepped up to report on and analyze.
In the ever-changing information industry with its ongoing mergers and acquisitions, bankruptcies, and startups, Hane worries about the notion of credibility in a Twitter world where breaking news is shared in a maximum of 140 characters. She wonders if that slim coverage is enough to keep the facts true to form and the readership informed.
In terms of what NewsBreaks has become over the years, Hane says she sometimes lamented that the big news may have been posted a few days later on NewsBreaks than
on other sites, "but we always took pride in the fact that we got the story right, we had good context, good reactions, and posted a really credible story that answered questions that our readers really wanted to know." She applauds the many writers who have contributed to NewsBreaks over the years and have written great stories time and time again.
"We're seeing big changes in the publishing ecosystem being impacted with ebooks," says Hane. "There are enormous challenges for publishers, distributors, and libraries, and the whole world is changing." Content is no longer purchased; it's licensed according to a growing list of complex terms, which limits what we can do with it, she says. With some libraries setting up their own ebook platforms in protest of the publisher-imposed licensing limitations, the playing field is completely different. "We've moved to a completely new model. It's an interesting time right now," she says, "and we're very much a field in flux."
For Hane, there have been a few unexpected benefits over the years in the crossroads of books and technology. For one, she says she's become a better writer. "Word processors made it so much easier to edit, and writing for the web has taught me to write interactively," she says, pointing to live links that add depth and breadth to any feature. But one of the best unexpected benefits of the job has been the people — the CEOs, product developers, and visionaries who have shared
their thoughts and insights about where we're going.
"For 26 years, I've been lucky enough to telecommute from home, and it's been an amazing journey," says Hane, and all along she's kept her focus on books, reading, and technology.
Hane has witnessed the power and resilience of librarians firsthand: How can you not love the way librarians are rising to the challenges of ebooks, budget cuts, and new technology? And she can't really imagine life without keeping a toe in the information waters. Though she has her sights set on living the life of a freelance writer and editor in the next phase of her career, she'll probably have time for an occasional article for Information Today and even NewsBreaks now and then.
But whatever the future holds, one thing is certain: Hane says she's not going to miss all those deadlines. She may be taking a big step, but she's used to plenty of late-breaking excitement: "It really has been an interesting ride."