E&P’s 25 Under 35 2013

By: Kristina Ackermann and Nu Yang

E&P’s 25 Under 35 2013

In 2012, CareerCast listed newspaper reporter as the fifth worst job in America — slightly better than working on an oil rig, but worse than, say, waiting tables for a living. With this kind of negative publicity, one might expect that the well of talented, young publishing professionals would be drying up as recent graduates seek out careers in software or healthcare instead. Not so.   

Perhaps more than ever, it is the younger generation that is leading newspapers to embrace sustainable business models, challenge conventional ways of thinking, and make this industry an exciting place to work again. Digital redesigns, paywall strategies, niche coverage opportunities, and unique advertiser partnerships are just a few of the ways this year’s 25 Under 35 are leaving their mark on the business of selling news.  

The 25 young men and women featured on the following pages do their work with a level of passion and excitement that exists in few other industries. Their commitment to their craft is what keeps the lights on at many newspapers, and the communities they serve are better for it. As always, we received more nominations than we could possibly include in one feature. And while each nominee had an inspiring story to tell, these 25 are representative of the type of talent this industry needs in order to thrive.     

Maria Alejandra Bastidas, 35

Associate editor, Mundo Hispánico, a division of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Education: Universidad Católica Andrés Bello (Caracas, Venezuela), mass communication  

Maria Alejandra Bastidas has worked at Mundo Hispánico for nine years. She started as a reporter and was promoted to associate editor four years ago. She is responsible for news assignments and works with a team of four reporters covering local news of the Hispanic community in Atlanta. She also is an active writer for the finance, health, fitness, and education sections and was recently awarded second place in the 2012 McGraw-Hill Markets Reporting Program from the International Center for Journalists for her investigative reporting on Latinos and 401(k) retirement accounts.  

Bastidas is also responsible for the monthly parenting magazine Padres & Hijos, a legal guide (Mundo Legal), a health guide (Mundo Salud), and a housing guide (Mundo Hogar). She appears on television channel Univision34 promoting the content of the paper and in a monthly interview with specialists discussing articles related to parenting. She also promotes the magazines weekly on Radio Informacion 1310 AM.  

What advice do you have for other young professionals in the newspaper industry?
Be open to change and become a multimedia journalist. Since I started working, I have seen and lived firsthand the changes in the newspaper industry. Now, in addition to being a writer, reporters and editors need to be able to take photos, produce multimedia, edit videos, and adapt the content they produce to any platform (print, Web, mobile). I also believe that as leaders of newspaper companies, we need to be open to change and embrace new technologies and new ways of doing business.  

Where do you see ethnic media in five years?
I see ethnic media growing and focusing on local content more than any other platform. With more and more options available to obtain information, our audiences will continue to prefer that media which provides them with the local information that affects their communities and daily life. Being a trusted media in the community we serve, as well as being a great resource of information and empowerment for our Hispanic readers in Georgia, is what has made Mundo Hispánico a successful newspaper. I believe this relationship with our community will continue and become stronger as we reach more readers with websites and social media. I believe my readers will continue to read in Spanish and that a large portion of them will do so in a mobile platform, so we are preparing for that time.    

Brock Enfield Berry, 33
Vice president, AdTaxi Networks, Digital First Media
Education: Indiana University, political science, minor in business and sociology 
Brock Enfield Berry was named vice president of AdTaxi in October 2011. He has since led account base growth from 70 to 1,000 in 12 months, seen digital revenue grow, conducted digital AdTaxi training across multiple markets in the Digital First Media Network, developed an in-house social media team that manages 240 monthly accounts, developed a search advertising department that manages 200-plus accounts monthly, and helped DFM land outside affiliates for AdTaxi, including The Dallas Morning News.  

During his tenure, the AdTaxi team grew from three to 25 to support the business’ growth. Berry implemented a new workflow system to increase efficiency and effectiveness, as well as standardized AdTaxi workflow across the DFM network that has improved reporting, call-to-close-ratio, and ad serving. Berry also launched a company-wide Google certification program that is supported by Google. Under his leadership, DFM has trained 1,000 Digital First sellers. AdTaxi has been rolled out in more than 16 different geographic clusters.  

What advice do you have for other young professionals in the newspaper industry?
My dad once told me, “When does your boss come in? When do they leave? If you’re in before them and leave after them, you’re almost guaranteed to succeed.”   

What do you think is the biggest opportunity with newspapers and digital advertising?
AdTaxi! In all seriousness, it’s leveraging the strong, existing, client relationships newspapers’ sales executive have with decision makers offering multi-platform audience/needs-based solutions. Those solutions should include display, mobile, social, email, video, and search. That kind of solution will help a business owner hit their target market in every part of the purchasing funnel.    

Jamie Biesiada, 25
Managing editor, The Coast Star and The Ocean Star
Manasquan, N.J.  
Education: Monmouth University (West Long Branch, N.J.), bachelor’s of arts in communication with emphasis in journalism and public relations; summa cum laude  

Jamie Biesiada manages two newspapers, 12 reporters, two photographers, and a paid circulation of 18,500. And she’s only 25. You won’t be surprised to learn that she also serves as the webmaster for both newspapers. Leadership is in her blood.  

Her publisher at Star News Group praised her business savvy, innovative ideas, and high levels of energy and productivity, and credited her leadership with several New Jersey Press Association awards the papers have taken home during her tenure.  

What advice do you have for other young professionals in the newspaper industry?
Be ready for change. It’s no secret this industry is changing on a near-daily basis. Think back to the popular news models of 10 years ago, five years ago, or even one year ago, and consider how the Internet has changed the game — especially with regard to immediacy. Factor in social networking, online video, and newer sites such as Pinterest that seem to be popping up all the time, and you have an ever-changing landscape on which to present content. A big part of being ready for that change is keeping your skill set diverse and up-to-date. Know how to write a compelling story, and challenge yourself to come back to the newsroom with some solid photos and video footage you can edit as well. Better yet, know how to post all of the above on a blog, and promote it through Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. Be willing to adapt with the industry as it evolves. And a glass of top-shelf bourbon here and there doesn’t hurt, either.  

You’re one of the youngest people to be recognized this year. Do you ever run into difficulty commanding respect in the newsroom? If so, how do you manage that?
Managing a newsroom isn’t always easy, but I don’t believe my age makes it any harder. I aim to create strong collaboration between everyone in the newsroom, and I try to foster an environment where reporters, photographers, and the entire staff view each other as peers striving toward a common goal at the end of the day: a strong news product that readers will value. I’m not just their managing editor, handing out stories and assignments, but I’m looking to them and their knowledge to help craft a well-rounded piece that will inform and, in certain cases, entertain our readers. Through developing a strong rapport with everyone in the newsroom, I believe we work in an environment where everyone is comfortable expressing their opinions and ideas — and those collaborative ideas often lead to our strongest pieces. 

Steve Bradley, 35
Production manager, Adirondack Daily Enterprise and Lake Placid News
Saranac Lake, N.Y., and Lake Placid, N.Y.  
Education: Liberal arts degree from Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis.  

Steve Bradley manages production for both the Adirondack Daily Enterprise and the Lake Placid News, and both of his publishers agree that he is a godsend for working long hours to save other people time. His tireless commitment helps the whole operation run smoothly.  

Bradley’s talents include design work for other publications and advertisers. He has written his own computer programs for electronic tearsheets and the data management system for directory listings. He paginates pages for the editorial department and typesets ads for both print and online, all while maintaining the computers, network, and CTP machine. Kind of makes you wish he was on your staff too, right?  

What advice do you have for other young professionals in the newspaper industry?
Be adaptive. Technology advances quickly. In order to reap the benefits of new technology, you need to be constantly willing to re-evaluate your routine and learn new skills.  

How would you say your job description has changed in the past five years?
Over the last five years, I’ve made better use of computer technology to improve efficiency and customer service at my paper. I always try to combine my experience in the newsroom with technical skills to make work easier for everyone.  

Brandi Cheatham, 34
Circulation manager, The Kentucky Standard
Bardstown, Ky.  
Education: Associate degree in business management  

For a small-town Kentucky paper with a circulation of around 10,000, a 1.5 percent increase in in-county circulation is a big deal. This was the result of Brandi Cheatham’s bold, one-year plan to boost readership at The Kentucky Standard, and she did it with a diversified marketing plan combined with a well-executed retention program.  

Cheatham’s retention strategy focused on rewarding loyal customers. She created an online reader rewards program with a premium rewards tier for EZ Pay customers. By marketing the program with bill stuffers, cable TV commercials, ROP ads, and even walk-in conversions, the Standard managed to increase the number of EZ Pay customers to 15 percent of customer base by the end of last year.  

What advice do you have for other young professionals in the newspaper industry?
Knowledge is power. Get as much hands-on experience in as many sectors as possible inside your business. In the 13 years I’ve been with this company, I have worked in the classified department, retail sales, TV sales, and the circulation department twice. It’s amazing how many things you can carry over from one department to another. Another piece of advice I’d like to share: Customer service is not a department! It’s an attitude. You cannot afford to switch someone to the “customer service department” when they have problems or issues with your product. Retention is the most important part of circulation. You cannot grow circulation and readership if you cannot retain what you already have.  

Can you share more details of your plan to grow in-county circulation?
We found new locations to distribute our four-week free trial cards that include the business’ logo and no postage necessary. For example, “Salt River Electric would like to welcome you with a four-week free subscription to The Kentucky Standard.” Potential subscribers who sign up for the trial offers are called on the first day of delivery, and a follow-up call is made three weeks into the trial to offer them an introductory rate to subscribe. If no sale is made, a direct mail piece is sent out after the customer stops on the fourth week.  

The free trials were also promoted at festivals, celebrations, and the county fair to increase our visibility and community involvement. Building relationships and opportunities for reader feedback helped us in-turn build circulation.  

We also developed a referral program for subscribers. Current subscribers who refer someone for the four-week free trial get a $10 gift card if that referral becomes a paid subscriber. This was promoted with bill stuffers and other direct mail pieces.   

Chris Coates, 30
Managing editor – news and sports, Sioux City Journal
Sioux City, Iowa  
Education: Columbia College Chicago, bachelor of fine arts  

The Sioux City Journal has been on somewhat of a tear lately. It won the Local Media Association’s 2012 award for Newspaper of the Year, several state awards for its sports coverage, and was even named one of E&P’s 10 Newspapers That Do It Right last month. All this, of course, can’t be attributed to just one person, but as managing editor of news and sports, Chris Coates is responsible for not only planning coverage and managing more than a dozen news and sports editors and writers, but also for serving as the primary editor of all that news copy.  

Coates has established himself as the newsroom’s go-to person for digital storytelling tools and social media reporting. His leadership skills are evident in his launching of new projects and initiatives, as well as in his ability to break the old habits of media veterans and get them to stop doing things the way they’ve always been done.  

What advice do you have for other young professionals in the newspaper industry?

Really focus on your writing, and work hard to make it as clear and accessible as possible for the average reader. Despite all the technology, words matter, regardless of whether it’s print, online, or mobile. Ledes, nutgrafs, and active verbs still count.    

Frequently ask your boss if he or she needs help. It goes a long way.  

Do the stories you’d want to see.  

Don’t let negative people drag you down.   

You can never be too passionate about our industry. Our future is so exciting.  

What old newsroom habits were the toughest to break, and why do you think this is such a critical component of newsroom management?
The biggest resistance was to long-term planning, a common issue with a small staff being pulled in a bunch of directions. The problem is, stories done at the last minute don’t allow for effective photos, graphics, or multimedia elements. We miss opportunities to connect with our audience. I’ve worked to deepen our story reserve and get people thinking about enterprise earlier and found ways to add more graphics and visuals. When the pieces all gel, it’s something magical.    

We also had some issues with not using our content management system and digital tools to the fullest. Refresher courses got everyone on the same page again, and I’ve pushed key staff members to set the bar higher.  

I’m a big advocate of approaching every story with a watchdog attitude, even minor things. It’s sometimes challenging for reporters to treat frequent sources skeptically and push harder, but that’s our job. Skeptical but fair. All of these issues hinge on showing staff members what can be done, setting a high standard and holding people to the expectations.   

Jennifer Furia Collins, 32
Editor, Today’s Pulse of Butler and Warren counties; assistant editor, Hamilton JournalNews and The Middletown Journal
Education: Ohio University (Athens, Ohio), magazine journalism  

Jennifer Furia Collins started her career in newspapers less than a decade ago as a part-time copy editor with Cox Media Group Ohio. In the past five years, she helped merge three copy desks into one, then helped create a single shared desk for all of Cox. She has supervised digital staff and most recently led the successful launch of two new weekly newspapers and websites. Collins does all this while supporting the overall operation. Her current role involves daily word editing and assigning for two Northern Cincinnati daily newspapers, as well as envisioning the content and presentation for the two new weeklies.  

“(Collins) is also a master at community news — her true love — and she is savvy about using new media to report, tell, and promote it,” said Jana Collier, Cox Media Group Ohio editor in chief.  

What advice do you have for other young professionals in the newspaper industry?
Never turn down an opportunity or assignment, no matter how mindless it seems or how far it takes you from your comfort zone. The ability to gain fresh perspectives and experiences will always further your career. I’ve never been asked what my college GPA was in a job interview, but I have always been asked about my “real world” experiences.  

Demand training and development opportunities from your employer. I am extremely fortunate to work for a company that places high importance on developing journalists with a broad range of skills and finds opportunities for them to grow. Find a mentor whose values and work ethic you admire, too. Their insight will guide you.  

What is your biggest grammar pet peeve?

It’s a classic: misuse of their, there, and they’re.    

Luke Connell, 32
City editor, Herald-Journal
Spartanburg, S.C.  
Education: University of Alabama, bachelor of arts in journalism and minor in English  

Luke Connell recognizes the challenges newspapers face in the 21st century, and he knows that in order to thrive, they must become an integral part of the communities they serve. As city editor of the Herald-Journal, he guides the paper’s coverage of the Spartanburg, S.C., community, earning the paper the President’s Cup award for overall excellence from the South Carolina Press Association for five years in a row.  

In addition to his finely tuned instincts for news and coverage, Connell contributes to the paper’s quarterly magazine, helping coordinate coverage and even design pages as needed. As part of his drive to serve the community, Connell has led the paper to hold fundraisers for local charity organizations and become more involved in community arts projects and local sports.  

What advice do you have for other young professionals in the newspaper industry?
Learn how to be a journalist first. Tools like Twitter and Facebook can be great ways to communicate with readers, cultivate sources and draw attention to your publication’s content, but you’ve got to learn the job first. Having the best hammer doesn’t make you a carpenter. Be curious. Learn how to talk to people. Learn how to write clearly. Seek the truth, and report your stories fairly.  

Why do you consider community involvement to be such an important part of a local newspaper’s mission?
Without compromising watchdog journalism, newspapers — in my opinion — need to begin tearing down that perceived wall between themselves and the public. While it’s true that journalists avoid certain entanglements to maintain impartiality — and that’s crucial in our business — it’s also true that many readers don’t feel connected to the work we do. At the Herald-Journal, we’ve organized simple, community events so that we can socialize with readers. As part of a citywide Christmas event, we had a photographer take photos of children with Santa in exchange for canned goods, which were donated to a local shelter. We made the photos available on our website, spread a little holiday cheer, and, most importantly, welcomed dozens of families who had never previously set foot inside the paper. For three years, we’ve sponsored a New Year’s Day fundraiser for the local Mobile Meals organization. A fellow editor has organized free cooking classes with the newspaper’s food columnist at our building. While these are simple ideas, they help reinforce — and in many cases create — connections between the newspaper and the community it serves. And I think that’s critical for the success of both.   

David Cuddihy, 34
Advertising director – transportation, food, and clubs, Naples Daily News
Naples, Fla.  

As advertising director for the transportation (auto), food (restaurants and local grocers), and clubs (country clubs and golf courses) business units, David Cuddihy and his team have found great success over the last four years, including several sales achiever of the month awards, and one member who won the 2010 Scripps Sales Achiever of the Year.  

Cuddihy has been part of the management team executing the category-focused restructuring in Naples since 2009, leading the transportation and professional services units, and recently taking on the food category. The Pew Research Center reported the Naples Daily News saw an estimated 10 percent gain in sales after sales restructuring.  

What advice do you have for other young professionals in the newspaper industry?
Don’t give up on print, and don’t be afraid to challenge the “we’ve always done it that way” answer.   

What is a popular advertising campaign you wish you had created?
It would be easy to say the “Just Do it” Nike campaign or Miller Lite’s “Tastes Great/Less Filling” debate, but my favorite campaign is really for sentimental reasons. It’s Dunkin’ Donuts’ Fred the Baker and his famous line “Time to make the donuts.” That line became my grandma’s catchphrase, whether she was headed to work, to the store, or any myriad of other errands, she was always “off to make the donuts.”    

Travis Curry, 35
Editor, Spencer Evening World
Spencer, Ind.  
Education: “I graduated from Owen Valley High School in Spencer and received some post-high school journalism instruction from Indiana State University in Terre Haute, but my true education came by way of listening to and learning from Tom Douglas, my mentor and the former longtime editor of the Spencer Evening World. From Tom I learned just how big of an impact a newspaper can have in a community and how that can never be taken lightly.”  

Travis Curry has worked his way up from staff writer to editor and currently oversees the Spencer Evening World and its sister publications The Ellettsville Journal, The Clay City News, and The Hoosier Topics in Cloverdale, Ind. During Curry’s tenure, the Evening World has changed from an afternoon publication to morning delivery and from paste-up to digital layout and production. 

Curry’s dedication to community journalism is so strong that the Evening World uses no wire service. The paper publishes strictly local news produced by local staff writers.  

What advice do you have for other young professionals in the newspaper industry?
Our industry has seen some rocky times, but community newspapers — daily, weekly, or otherwise — are the future of our industry. Community newspapers chronicle people’s lives and alert citizens to the opportunities, threats, troubles, and joys in their community. Community newspapers provide the kind of news that has serious meaning in local households — the kind of news that can’t be found anywhere else. Community newspapers are thriving, because they have persistently weathered the storm year in and year out to remain a fixture in our everyday lives. Don’t consider community newspapers to be just a stepping-stone, but rather a destination to a rewarding career.  

What is one of the biggest challenges of running a small, local newspaper in today’s climate?
I don’t worry about the future of journalism itself, because journalism will always adapt to technology, but figuring out the revenue streams of the future and how to keep newsroom staff sizes from dropping too much will be the challenge. Some of the decline in advertising revenue can be attributed to the ongoing economic downturn, but much of it is due to a major shift in classified advertising from newspapers to websites such as Craigslist and Monster. Likewise, national and local advertisers increasingly are utilizing the Internet and other options for their advertising needs. Newspapers, particularly small, community dailies, must figure out what the new competitors are doing and do it better. 

Brianna Ferran, 31
Human resources director, The Pueblo Chieftan
Pueblo, Colo.  
Education: Bachelor’s degree in English and communications with a minor in business administration; currently working on MBA in organizational leadership  

Human resources can be a thankless profession for the very same reasons that make it such an essential part of any business operation. Given the current business climate — layoffs, terminations, and new hires — the HR department is vital to keeping the industry afloat. After working her way up to the position of HR director, Brianna Ferran has contributed more to the Pueblo Chieftan than paperwork and health insurance.  

Ferran regularly consults with department heads, managers, and employees on all HR-related issues, including employee relations, compensation, staffing, and diversity. She also serves as a coach, providing feedback and resources to assist supervisors in resolving conflicts, ultimately improving the effectiveness of entire departments. Ferran is also on the frontline of attracting and retaining top talent, union relations, and key legal issues. She does a little bit of just about everything, ensuring the Chieftan operates smoothly.  

What advice do you have for other young professionals in the newspaper industry?
Someone entering the newspaper industry should know it offers a variety of positions for employment, including business, human resources, circulation, editorial, graphic design, interactive media, information technology, marketing and promotions, photography, production, and operations. So working in the newspaper biz should not be pigeonholed to just writing. Within these areas there is room for growth and promotion. However, in regard to becoming a journalist I think it is of the utmost importance to be passionate about the Fourth Estate and let that passion guide you in your day-to-day tasks. Also, an innate ability to accept criticism in this position is a must.  

You said yourself that HR is often “overlooked.” What are some of the ways a strong HR department benefits the overall growth and progress of a newspaper company?
HR acts as a strategic partner of all newspaper organizations. We not only ensure legal compliance while decreasing risk to the organization, we create and implement strategic vision in the operating roles of the company. Most importantly, we work with the employees, the heart and soul of any organization. In the nature of today’s newspaper environment, it is important that HR leaders have an entrepreneurial spirit and continue to change and grow along with the industry. We face many economic challenges; we are tasked to do more with less and aligned with a strong HR department we can help manage our human capital to accomplish the overall goals of the company.    

Elizabeth Jones, 36
GameTimePA.com editor, York Daily Record/Sunday News
York, Pa.  
Education: Towson (Md.) University, sports management; Millersville (Pa.) University, masters in sports management (coaching emphasis)  

Elizabeth Jones celebrated her 36th birthday on Feb. 5, after she had already been nominated for recognition in our “25 under 35” feature. Though she no longer meets our criteria, we thought she was enough of a standout to include her anyway.  

Jones joined the York Daily Record/Sunday News in 1998 as a part-time editorial assistant in the sports department and worked her way up to GameTimePA editor, a regional management position in which she directs the growth and direction for high school sports coverage at all of Digital First Media’s Pennsylvania newsrooms. Recently, she oversaw GameTimePA’s expansion to Lancaster County this spring.  

Jones works on a daily basis with the company’s sports editors to convey best practices for digital-first coverage and presentation of high school sports. She helps guide social media philosophies, solves problems, and finds efficiencies across newsrooms. She is also in constant communication with members of the Web and technical teams to discover, vet, and sometimes create the best solutions for conveying information on smartphones and tablets.  

What advice do you have for other young professionals in the newspaper industry?
Don’t do something just because it’s always been done that way. Many journalists have the opportunity and ability to be true innovators but won’t take the leap away from tradition. Re-think how you do your job, embrace new ways to reach your audience, and don’t be afraid to fail.  

Did you play any high school sports, and what was your favorite moment?
Basketball was my main focus in high school, but I also played on the first girls’ varsity soccer team in school history and did a variety of events in track and field — my favorite being the high jump. My favorite hoops moment happened during my junior year when we defeated a hated rival by seven points on their home court, which made it that much sweeter. We were down at the half, and our coach, who was usually very reserved, delivered a three-word halftime speech. I had never seen him that angry/fired up, and we just fed off his emotion. It was great.    

Crystal Miller, 35
Advertising director, Albert Lea Tribune
Albert Lea, Minn.  
Education: graphic design  

As advertising director of the Albert Lea Tribune, Crystal Miller excels in driving others to perform at the top of their game. For more than 10 years Miller has focused on hiring and developing the “right” people, transforming them into a top-notch sales team. This strategy has helped the company generate operating revenue of $2.8 million, with EBITDA at a 38 percent margin. Miller’s sales-generating ideas have also led to the launch of a glossy magazine titled Southern Minnesota.  

One of Miller’s greatest successes is the Tribune’s annual Progress edition, a collection of 100 stories and photos covering only good news about the people and businesses in Freeborn County and Albert Lea, Minn. This year, for the sixth time under Miller’s watch, the Progress edition surpassed the paper’s goal of $100,000 in advertising revenue. The 2013 Progress edition was published Feb. 24 and brought in a final total of $111,187. Good news indeed.  

What advice do you have for other young professionals in the newspaper industry?
Take the time to listen to individual successes and problems. It helps you to be familiar with customers, any problems your employees are facing, and the direction in which your company is moving.  

What has been one of your most successful sales strategies given the current economic climate?
Build customer relationships by taking care of the customer, and be involved in their interests and community. There is a very good chance that your competitor is too busy to do this, and it shows the customer that they can trust you.    

Eric NeSmith, 33
Vice president of business development, Community Newspapers, Inc.
Athens, Ga.  
Education: University of Georgia Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, newspapers  

Eric NeSmith was 8 years old when he started inserting at his father’s weekly newspaper, The Press-Sentinel, in Jesup, Ga. He stood on a Coca-Cola crate to reach the inserting table. As a college student, NeSmith plunged into reporting in Highlands, N.C., where he was an intern for several months. After graduation, he returned to Highlands and nearby Cashiers to have a go at advertising. In 2005, selling for the Highlands and Cashiers newspapers and an affiliated real estate magazine, NeSmith set an all-time record for Community Newspapers, Inc., which owns 28 newspapers in Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina. The sales record — $125,000 in one month — still stands.  

In 2006, NeSmith was promoted to publisher and editor of The Highlander. At 28, he was the youngest publisher in the company. This year, he was promoted to vice president of business development for the company. He also was named to the company’s board of directors.  

What advice do you have for other young professionals in the newspaper industry?
Believe in what you do. Now, more than ever, our industry is in need of creative and passionate businesspeople and journalists who believe in serving their communities through the products they produce. Yes, this is a time of change, but in change also lies opportunity. In order to successfully navigate this sea of change, we must remember to stay in tune with the communities we serve. By keeping our fingers on the pulse, we will be able to better recognize the opportunities.   

As a former publisher, how would you keep staff motivated in this evolving industry?
There is nothing in the world I would rather do than work with our community newspapers. I am passionate about the role our newspapers play in our communities. Attitude is always contagious. When I was publisher and editor of The Highlander, our team focused on covering our community and serving our customers completely. That was our mission, and that was our motivation. We took pride in what we did. We believed in our mission. And when we jumped off track, it was my job to center us again, focusing on our objective and the important role we played in our community.      

Anne Raih, 30
Digital content manager, GateHouse Media news and interactive division
Downers Grove, Ill.
Education: University of Notre Dame, English and studio art

In her role, Anne Raih oversees development of GateHouse’s more than 350 news websites, striving daily to improve visitor experience and build traffic. She works closely with the company’s development team on innovative projects that can scale for editors of smaller sites all the way up to the largest sites in the country. For example, Raih worked with a team to quickly create a special Blizzard 2013 section into which all content from across GateHouse’s 160-plus websites in eastern Massachusetts could be aggregated, providing the most comprehensive on-the-ground coverage of the major winter storm.  

Raih has also been a leader in helping create the company’s ever-growing social media strategy. She has an eye on the daily evolution of social media and how new tools and platforms can apply and scale across company websites.

What advice do you have for other young professionals in the newspaper industry?
Embrace the Web, every aspect of it. Experiment with new technology, apps, and social platforms, and learn how to code. Don’t just throw your stories on your website and wait for the clicks to come; find different ways you can present a story to an online audience to bring it to life. Keep actively learning about new technologies that are available to you — there are so many free open online courses now, you can really take your education into your own hands. Who knows what the next big thing to change the way people read and interact with news will be? But if you’re more technologically agile than your peers, you’ll rise to the top.

What is the one thing a newspaper should never post about on social media?
Social media can be deceivingly intimate, so don’t be fooled. Anything posted online is public, so journalists should always be professional and smart about the messages they are delivering, and make sure to stick to the facts. There are always risks, of course, but the bigger risk is not utilizing social media enough. A key part of your audience is out there, waiting to engage. They might not come directly to you, so it’s up to you to reach them.    

Marlize Van Romburgh, 24
Managing editor, Pacific Coast Business Times
Santa Barbara, Calif.  
Education: California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) in San Luis Obispo, Calif., bachelor’s degree in journalism with minor in economics  

In addition to her full-time role managing the weekly production schedule of the print edition of Pacific Coast Business Times, Marlize Van Romburgh holds down key beats such as banking and commercial real estate.  

Currently, Van Romburgh is a key member of the Business Times team charged with developing a platform-neutral digital product that will enhance both revenue and readership opportunities across all tablets and mobile devices. She is responsible for bringing the paper multiple SABEW best in business awards, two L.A. Press Club awards, and a Sigma Delta Chi award.  

What advice do you have for other young professionals in the newspaper industry?
Be entrepreneurial and be bold in trying new things, but never forget the core tenets and principles of journalism. Sure, the technology and the delivery platforms have changed, but the essence of good journalism remains what it always has been: Reporting the news that people need to know. That means questioning authority, digging up facts, asking tough questions, and knowing how to tell a story.  

It’s also important to have a broader perspective on the state of the industry. I stepped up to lead the digital transition at the Business Times because I’m fully cognizant of the fact that the industry is changing, and fast. I wanted to make sure that we had a strategy in place to remain profitable in the fast-approaching paperless age.  

How did you approach your digital transition strategy, and what were some key elements of that strategy?
We launched a new, redesigned website with a custom-built paywall in fall 2011. There’s only one kind of Business Times subscription, and it gets you both the weekly print issue and full access to our online edition. For our readers, it’s been a positive, because for the same subscription price they’ve always been paying, they now get the digital edition as well. And for us, it lays the foundation to start transitioning to a digital-only publication, something that I suspect will occur within the next five to 10 years.  

The paywall has already been a roaring success, and our paid subscriber count is approaching all-time highs. This is because we never allowed our digital product to cannibalize the print newspaper, which has generated the advertising and subscription revenue that has kept the lights on around here for more than a decade.  

We’re currently working on another redesign, this time to create a website that will be responsive for tablet and mobile screens and offers more advertising and sponsorship opportunities. We view our first paywall effort as the essential foundation that gave us a base of paying digital readers and on which to build the rest of our digital efforts.    

Erich Schwartzel, 26
Pipeline editor, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Education: Boston University, journalism  

As editor of Pipeline, the Post-Gazette’s specialty news site on natural gas drilling and fracking in the Marcellus Shale, Erich Schwartzel leads a team in the newsroom providing daily news, background primers, and multimedia interactives that explain the drilling boom. He oversaw the site’s creation and has guided an expansion of coverage that now includes other states across the country. The site has also redefined how the Post-Gazette defines its audience — with an online platform, the news gets to readers far beyond the newspaper’s traditional circulation zone.  

Readers now come from across the country in other shale states such as Colorado and Texas, and the site has even attracted readers from other countries interested in its daily documentation of this international story. Schwartzel and his team won the Best Specialty Site Award from the Online News Association in 2011 and the Scripps Howard Award for Environmental Reporting in 2012.  

What advice do you have for other young professionals in the newspaper industry?
Good stories read well on any display.    

Why are you so passionate about reporting on the drilling boom?
It’s a local story first. Gas drilling in Pennsylvania has far-reaching international implications, but the first relationships it affects are not between companies or countries but between neighbors. At the Post-Gazette, we’ve focused our coverage online so readers anywhere can see all angles of a development that will change their landscape for generations.    

Adam Sears, 33
Home delivery manager, The Bulletin
Bend, Ore.  
Education: Studied management with an entrepreneurial option at Boise State University  

Adam Sears is a young publishing professional whose day-to-day duties extend well beyond his actual job title. Though his official role at The Bulletin is home delivery manager, he helps extensively with the paper’s marketing and branding efforts since the circulation department had to shed four full-time employees. As you may imagine, Sears’ compensation didn’t go up when he was given these new responsibilities, but his superiors said he’s taken it in stride and still exudes positivity and enthusiasm.  

To help the Bulletin grow circulation, Sears developed an annual readership contest in partnership with a local travel agent. Last year the paper had more than 30,000 entries. The winner received an all-expense-paid trip to Tahiti; the Bulletin got increased reader retention due to its visibility in the community.  

What advice do you have for other young professionals in the newspaper industry?
Hard work and setting a good example if you have employees is something I try to demonstrate. 

If you know your stuff and work hard, age tends to not be an issue. I feel I set myself apart by being open to change and new ideas. One of my favorite parts about working for The Bulletin and Keith Foutz (corporate circulation and operations director) is that I get to be creative, get involved in marketing, and get some of my crazy ideas implemented. Other young professionals should bring their ideas to the table whenever possible. It may turn out to be something great for your readers.  

What was your greatest challenge in assimilating new tasks that resulted from other positions being eliminated at the Bulletin?
The greatest challenge in taking on new roles without giving up old ones is to stay organized. Keeping a running list of projects and tasks is the only way I stay sane. I have a ton of day-to-day work, but also a lot of large projects that I need to try and stay on top of. Organization can make or break that workflow.   

George Spohr, 31
Editor, The Sentinel
Carlisle, Pa.  
Education: Utica College  

George Spohr hasn’t even been editor of The Sentinel for a full year yet, and he has already navigated the paper through a dynamic period of growth and change. He negotiated a unique partnership with the local ABC television affiliate, led the launch of a daily print feature section, established a daily opinion page with a local editorial, added a local editorial cartoon to the Sunday paper, and even hired a Capitol bureau reporter.  

More importantly, Spohr is confirming that his small newsroom can handle every challenge and opportunity that comes its way. This is especially critical now that the Sentinel’s main competition, the Harrisburg Patriot-News, has reduced its publishing cycle to three days a week. Spohr’s leadership has helped the Sentinel grow print circulation by the thousands while maintaining a strong online presence.  

What advice do you have for other young professionals in the newspaper industry?
Avoid the naysayers. If you work hard and have good ideas, you’ll go far. This industry rewards innovation.  

What is your editorial strategy to fill the daily news void left by the Patriot-News going to three days a week?
On a feature-for-feature basis, we’re trying to match them. We have added a local political cartoon, The New York Times crosswords, reviews of the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra, and a statehouse bureau, among other things. We entered into a content-sharing arrangement with a Harrisburg TV station to provide us with news outside of our core suburban market. That partnership goes far beyond sharing content. We swap news tips. We collaborate on stories.  

Our newshole is bigger than it was five years ago. Our paper has more sections than it had five years ago. Our print product is thicker than it has been in years. This has motivated our team to excel in every category we can. As our circulation soars, we just get more excited about the opportunity we have before us.    

Courtney Spradlin, 28
Social media editor, Log Cabin Democrat
Conway, Ark.  
Education: Arkansas Tech University, journalism graduate with focus on public relations  

As one of the newest job titles in the newsroom, the role of social media editor goes to someone younger than 30 more often than not; and with good reason. Courtney Spradlin was recently promoted to this role at the Log Cabin Democrat, but her skills and experience extend well beyond 140 characters.  

Spradlin produces content and visuals for various platforms and understands the importance of interacting with the community and doing public service journalism. She is already teaching and leading others in the newsroom alongside her talented reporters and editors. She also took home several awards in the Arkansas Associated Press Managing Editors annual contest for writing and photography — a multitalented powerhouse.  

What advice do you have for other young professionals in the newspaper industry?
Stay open. It’s a daily practice. Don’t cling to what was; embrace the new and different.  

As a younger professional, you have less unlearning to do. You have the opportunity to excel in the industry as it is now. Keep the tried-and-true journalistic values, but strive to match your delivery and interactions with ever-changing platforms, from broadcast all the way down to one-on-one exchange.  

Don’t disparage the responsibilities handed down the line to you because you are young. Take those opportunities, and make something that stands out. Make other people wish they’d done it themselves.  

If someone approached you during your freshman year of college and said that someday Facebook would be part of your job description, what would your reaction have been?
As a brooding creative writing freshman, I would have laughed at the idea. As a more enlightened individual, I now understand working with Facebook and all available mediums to engage with the world and disseminate useful, weird, or fun information is indeed creative and satisfying.  

It is also fun to say I get to play on Facebook at work.   

Matt Torman, 32
Nightside manager, Metro Design House, GateHouse Media
Rockford, Ill.  
Education: Augustana College (Rock Island, Ill.), English  

When GateHouse Media launched two central desk operations in June 2012, Matt Torman was assigned to help start the Rockford, Ill., center. Building an operation of this magnitude (23 daily newspapers and 18 weeklies so far) required Torman to interview dozens of job candidates. He built out the front end and back end of the content management system and then worked one-on-one with editors to coach them through the new computer system, the new way of planning the newspaper, and a new way of communicating.  

Previously, Torman served as assistant delivery editor on a mid-sized newspaper copy desk. Today, he is a frontline leader and go-to troubleshooter in a room of almost 50 page designers. “His calm demeanor sets a positive, get-it-done tone in a room always on deadline and often encountering new challenges because it’s a new operation,” said Design House director Jennie Broecker. “He coaches employees every day, and he is sorely missed when he is gone.”  

What advice do you have for other young professionals in the newspaper industry?
Uncertainty about the future of the industry may be warranted, but newspapers made money hand over fist for a long time. While the massive profit margins may not be there, newspaper companies are still finding ways to generate revenue. So, continue to learn, unlearn, and relearn ways to deliver local content — there’s a lot of new ground to break as the newspaper model again hits its stride. Plus, I feel like it’s not a bad sign when Warren Buffett is buying newspapers.  

If you could have any sports coach come in to pump up your staff, who would it be and why?
Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. He asks a lot of his players but not without putting in the same amount of effort himself. He always strives for perfection and understands that in order to achieve that goal, people’s roles will change from day to day.    

Zahira Torres, 32 

Austin bureau chief, El Paso Times
El Paso, Texas  
Education: University of Texas at El Paso, political science  

El Paso Times
editor Robert Moore nominated Zahira Torres based on her “relentless” reporting on the El Paso Independent School District. According to Moore, the district had faced cheating accusations for more than a year but managed to frustrate attempts at public scrutiny. Torres filed an open records request for information that had been compiled as part of a district audit by the U.S. Department of Education, and the resulting investigation by the Times showed that district officials had participated in one of the worst cheating scandals in the nation’s history, denying Mexican immigrant students their constitutional right to an education, as administrators collected bonuses by gaming the state and federal accountability systems.  

The investigation prompted the Texas Education Agency to remove the district’s elected school board. “She built the story piece by piece over eight months in 2012, and continues reporting the story in 2013,” Moore said. “She used only documents and named sources in telling the story. The reporting engaged the community and led to significant changes.”  

What advice do you have for other young professionals in the newspaper industry?
It’s easy to get discouraged about the potential for investigative journalism as the demands for instant updates and stories continue to grow at newspapers trying to adapt to an online market. Don’t lose faith in the profession, and don’t underestimate what you can do with limited resources or how online tools can make investigative work stronger. You may hear stories about journalists at larger newspapers having a year to work on a big investigative project. That is not the reality for most journalists, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a difference in your community with meaningful and investigative reporting. Work with your editors. A strong editor will value investigative work, but a good reporter will also understand that meaningful work does not happen if you turn your phone off and stop checking your email at 5:00.  

How did you stay resilient while you were investigating the El Paso Independent School District?
I reminded myself that I had a great editor and amazing colleagues who were working just as hard to contribute to the newspaper and to the El Paso community. We have a small staff at the El Paso Times, and every reporter, editor, photographer, copy editor, designer, and online employee works extremely hard to produce a daily newspaper that looks out for the community it serves. I also made sure that I always kept my priorities in perspective. When the school district frustrated attempts to obtain certain documents or specific information, I searched for other ways. I knew that obtaining the information was not a form of personal victory. Rather, it was critical to curb a culture forged by administrators at the school district that put personal gain above the education of children in the community where I grew up.    

Ben Vankat, 29
Online editor, Omaha World-Herald
Omaha, Neb.  
Education: University of Nebraska-Lincoln, journalism  

When nominating Ben Vankat for our list this year, Omaha World-Herald managing editor Melissa Matczak said, “Every news organization needs a Ben Vankat — or several of them.”  

Vankat came to the World-Herald in 2006 as a copy editor/sports designer and quickly won a handful of Society of Newspaper Design awards. In 2009, he moved to the news department as online editor, where he became the go-between for the newsroom and Web developers and helped redesign the paper’s award-winning college football site. He also played a key role in developing the paper’s niche sites Live Well Nebraska, Momaha, and Curbwise. Last year, he led the effort to redesign, refresh, and reorganize omaha.com. Vankat recently was promoted to oversee day-to-day operations of the paper’s online products.  

What advice do you have for other young professionals in the newspaper industry?
The options for journalists have changed so much in the last few years. Before, you had to choose between writer, copy editor, and photographer. Now there are Web developers, database experts, video producers, and designers working in newsrooms across the country. Decide what you do best, and then work hard to find someone that will hire you for that thing. There really is a place for almost everyone in today’s newsroom, as long as you’re good.  

What is your favorite part about redesigning a website?
I’ve really enjoyed taking feedback from people inside and outside the newsroom, then looking for solutions that make both sides happy. That usually involves making things easier to find. I’m always trying to finish with a design where people will say, “Yep, it’s better now.”    

Maggie Wartik, 30
Communications and community manager, Chicago Tribune Media Group; project manager, The Mash
Education: Graduate of Northwestern University’s School of Communications  

Maggie Wartik has two sets of business cards, one for each of her job titles. As many young people in the newspaper industry can attest, when you’re passionate, energetic, and engaging, you tend to have a lot of work thrown your way.  

Wartik oversees all communications and public relations initiatives for the Chicago Tribune Media Group, no small feat for a company that was roiled in bankruptcy proceedings for half a decade. In 2008, Wartik got her second job title when she helped launch a unique community initiative called The Mash (see the June 2012 issue of E&P), a weekly newspaper and website developed by Chicago area teens for teens. The paper is written by the teens, who are mentored and edited by Tribune editors. The paper is then published by the Tribune and distributed at Chicago high schools.   

What advice do you have for other young professionals in the newspaper industry?
Take on anything and everything you can, especially early in your career when you have the time, energy, and hunger to learn. I know it sounds cliché, but I truly believe that trying to familiarize yourself with every element of the business — every department and job function — not only grounds you and reminds you that you’re just one small part of a fast-moving, ever-evolving organization, but exposes you to the possibilities beyond your role and gives you a glimpse into what could be your future.  

I remember going over to the Tribune’s massive printing plant and grabbing the very first edition of The Mash off the presses at 5 a.m. It was an entirely different world over there, and I was wowed by the enormity of it and the complexity in which it worked. I was grateful for the opportunity and the exposure — and I never would have thought that, one day, I’d be running that business myself.  

What has been the most rewarding aspect of working on The Mash?
The kids. Without a doubt. On the days when I’m running from meeting to meeting, putting sales pitches together, dealing with schools who can’t find that week’s edition, organizing a TV segment with our students about violence, and so on … all I need to do is walk into “The Mash War Room” on a Thursday, where our student staffers have gathered after school to talk about their ideas for stories and what their peers are buzzing about. They’ve come from the city and the suburbs, from public schools and private, with vastly different backgrounds and lifestyles — and now they sit in one room, together munching on snacks and talking over each other enthusiastically, as they give us insight into their elusive and vulnerable world. And I remember what it’s all about.    

Karen Workman, 27
Breaking news producer, Project Thunderdome, Digital First Media
New York  
Education: Oakland (Mich.) University, journalism  

Karen Workman joined the Journal Register Co. in 2004 as an editorial assistant at The Oakland (Mich.) Press. She became a reporter in 2007 and was promoted to community engagement editor in 2011. A member of Journal Register Co.’s inaugural ideaLab, Workman has been part of the company’s internal training team, leading training in community engagement, social media, video reporting, and more.  

In July 2012, Workman was recruited to join Project Thunderdome, Digital First Media’s centralized content team, and is now part of Thunderdome’s breaking news desk. She has been instrumental in providing national coverage and stories to Digital First Media’s 57 daily newspapers and more than 200 non-daily publications. As a member of the curation team, she also conceived and launched the Bizarre Blotter, a collection of arrest/police oddities from across the country that continues to be one of the most viewed content collections on a weekly basis.  

What advice do you have for other young professionals in the newspaper industry? 
Seize every opportunity that comes your way to try something new. When it seems like those opportunities aren’t popping up, push to create them. Pitch not just a story idea, but pitch the best way to tell that story. Trying something new will usually involve a learning curve, but remind yourself that it’s the learning part that makes it worthwhile anyhow. Be conscious of how you consume news and if you ever think you wouldn’t want to consume what you’re creating, stop. Rethink it. Remake it. Always aim to tell an interesting story.  

What is the strangest Bizarre Blotter entry you’ve ever published? 
Every time I curate a new edition of the blotter, I think I’ve come across the strangest thing I’ve ever heard. Looking back at all the editions I’ve produced, it feels impossible to select one item as the strangest. Would it be the man whose penis was stolen while he slept? The shoe store staffer who bit off a chunk of his ex-girlfriend’s toe? The county in Ireland that wants to relax drunk driving laws for elderly people in an effort to stop senior citizen suicides? What about all the crazy things people have done while naked? It’s so hard to pick one above the others, and that’s exactly why the Bizarre Blotter exists. I am consistently overwhelmed with an abundance of odd crime news; every edition is an exercise in selecting the most bizarre of the bizarre.   

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