Distinguished Speaker Series Welcomes Chris Hayes

Journalist Chris Hayes spoke at SUNY New Paltz as part of their Distinguished Speakers event.
Journalist Chris Hayes spoke at SUNY New Paltz as part of their Distinguished Speakers event. (Photo courtesy of Katie Ondris)

From a broken glass to a blaring siren, what grabs people’s attention is life’s most important resource, according to MSNBC reporter Chris Hayes.

Emmy Award-winning journalist and author Hayes presented the idea of attention as life’s driving force in his speech at SUNY New Paltz on March 4. The Bronx native gave his “Life in the Attention Age” talk to an audience of around 500. Hayes was introduced to the stage by Emmy-winner and New Paltz alumna Miriam Ward. President of the College Darrell P. Wheeler presented Ward, and thanked her for introducing Hayes to the university.  Following the conference, The Oracle was able to speak with Hayes and get his advice for student journalists hoping to enter the field. 

“Attention is the substance of life,” Hayes said. “Each instance you spend on this planet, the substance of what your life will be is what you pay attention to in each instance.”

Hayes’ speech theorized that attention is a resource that is fiercely competed for. He said that it has become a product that people’s lives and careers are changed by, including his own.

“You cannot set the agenda, you cannot, for instance, persuade people of your point of view, if you cannot get their attention first for your cause,” Hayes said. “It’s also fickle. It moves quickly. It’s burned through. It’s also the reason I think that is one of, if not the most important resources of the age.”

Hayes also warned that corporations are taking advantage of attention in order to make a profit. According to Hayes, corporations control where people put their attention in order to get them to talk about and buy their products. 

“The substance of life, the thing that’s inside us, in some ways, the definition of consciousness itself, where we choose to put our attention, what we choose to attend to, is being extracted from us for a value outside,” Hayes said.

Hayes’ presence on stage was both casual and commanding. He was friendly and open in his body language, making the audience feel included in the speech. He held audience attention throughout the hour-long speech, with the lecture hall often erupting into laughter or applause. 

Hayes hosts the show “All In with Chris Hayes” and the podcast “Why Is This Happening? The Chris Hayes Podcast.” His speech described the main idea of his upcoming book “The Sirens’ Call,” which will be his third book following his New York Times best seller’s “A Colony in a Nation” and “Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy.” He mainly writes about political and social issues. His essays and articles have appeared in publications like The New York Times and The Guardian. He is known for his to-the-point attitude and honesty.

“I am transparent about what my biases are. My biases are towards solidarity, multiracial democracy, social justice. They’re against bullies and abuses of power. They’re against oppressive and artificial hierarchies,” Hayes said during the Q&A that followed his speech.

Audience reception to Hayes’s speech was positive, from both avid viewers of “All In” and those less familiar with his work.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for us here in New Paltz in the community to have someone like him to come talk with us,” said audience member Mathew Swerdloff.

Students also felt enriched by the experience, being presented with new and interesting ideas. Hayes himself pointed out that the issues he spoke about are particularly important for young people, considering they grew up in this attention-driven age and never knew a life without it.

“A big thing for me was being conscious about what we’re paying attention to, and how we can bring attention to the things that are important,” said third-year theater arts major Jennifer Marshall.

After the event, Hayes told The Oracle that he thinks the most important thing for student journalists to know is how to master the basics of journalism: writing and thinking.

“The two most important things are to learn how to think critically, and the most important thing is to write clearly,” he said. “Think clearly, rigorously, communicate ideas and basic facts in a succinct, clear way.” 

As for advice for graduating journalists trying to enter the field, Hayes said that journalism has changed so much throughout his career that it’s difficult for him to give any pointers. 

“The only thing I can say is to try to be curious and to learn how to do the basis of the craft wherever you can do,” Hayes said.

The event was part of SUNY New Paltz’s Distinguished Speakers series. Now in its 15th year, the Distinguished Speakers series invites leaders in policy, media, science and activism to present at the campus, according to the university’s website. Hayes’ speech was sponsored by the Campus Auxiliary Services, Liberty Coca Cola Beverages, M&T Bank and Sodexo, alongside several lecture and local business sponsors.

Another Distinguished Speakers event is set to take place in the upcoming fall semester. “All In with Chris Hayes” airs daily on MSNBC and new episodes of his podcast air weekly.

About Katie Ondris 49 Articles
Katie Ondris is a second-year journalism major from New Jersey. They have previous experience with fiction writing, but The Oracle is their first position as a journalist. Outside of New Paltz, they work as a barista and spend their free time indulged in films and books.