So much information, so little time: Emmy award-winning news anchor Chris Hayes speaks at New Paltz about ‘Life in the Attention Age’

Award-winning news anchor for MSNBC Chris Hayes captured the attention of a sold-out crowd of campus community members during SUNY New Paltz’s 15th annual spring Distinguished Speaker Series on March 4, 2023.  

Hayes’ talk, “Life in the Attention Age,” concerned how to keep audiences plugged into the news cycle when there are more stories than ever competing for attention on multiple platforms. 

“Information is unbounded, and it’s infinite and unconstrained,” said Hayes. “The more constrained attention gets, and the more important the resource of attention is, the fiercer the competition is for that potential.” 

More than 500 attendees, including at least 40 alumni, gathered in person to listen to his talk, which was followed by a Q&A expanding further on how news stories are competing for the public’s undivided attention in divided times. The impressive turnout was a record for the series since it was launched 15 years ago. 

The event also served as a homecoming for alumna and colleague of Hayes, Miriam Ward ’15 (Digital Media & Journalism), an Emmy award-winning producer for “The Rachel Maddow Show” and “Alex Wagner Tonight.” 

A part-time New Paltz resident, Hayes took time at the beginning of his lecture to recognize the uniquely New Paltz crowd. “My wife and I spend a lot of time here and love the campus community, and we love the students that we get to meet,” he said. “It’s incomparable to be around young people and a place of learning.” 

Through illustrative metaphors Hayes captivated his on-campus audience, delving into the basic principles of attention. “The thing about attention is that as powerful and potent as it is, it’s very fickle,” he said. “Attention is like wood in a fire. It burns very hot, but then you have to keep adding more.” 

As a successful writer, Hayes keeps the principles of attention in mind when deciding what stories he should cover on his own TV news program, “All in with Chris Hayes.” 

“Prior to all the things I do in my work, I have to hold people’s attention,” he said. “If I don’t do that, then I don’t have a job.” 

He ended his talk with these words of wisdom for people trying to navigate the attention age in media today. “Attention is truly our own, and we need to reclaim it,” he said. “The most important thing is to recognize what we are paying attention to and why we are.” 

Outside of “All in with Chris Hayes” at MSNBC, Hayes also hosts podcast “Why is this Happening? The Chris Hayes Podcast.” He is editor-at-large of “The Nation,” and has been published in Time, The New Republic, The Guardian and The New York Times Magazine. He has authored two New York Times bestsellers, “Twilight of the Elites: America after Meritocracy” and “A Colony in a Nation,” signing copies of the latter after the event. 

About the Distinguished Speaker Series
Launched in 2008, the Distinguished Speaker Series hosts speakers twice annually in order to connect SUNY New Paltz alumni, students, faculty, staff and community members with highly accomplished authors, policy makers, leaders, scientists, media experts, businesspeople and other luminaries. 

SUNY New Paltz’s Distinguished Speaker Series is made possible by the SUNY New Paltz Foundation. The spring 2023 program was presented with support from Campus Auxiliary Services, Liberty Coca-Cola Beverages, M&T Bank, Sodexo, America’s Best Value Inn, SUNY Ulster and the Ulster Community College Foundation, Ulster Savings Bank, Central Hudson, Heritage Financial Credit Union, Salisbury Bank, and Stewart’s Shops. 

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