When Drew scheduled an interview with me in February 2005, I presumed it was just a courtesy interview: he scheduled me for only an hour.
The interview came at my initiative. I heard through a friend at API that Drew was going to be hiring someone to direct “tailored programs” (customized training and consulting for specific organizations). I had been a discussion leader for four API seminars, but had never met Drew. I started going to API seminars before he took over as president. And when I was in Reston, Va., for a seminar, he was always traveling. And one of the seminars I helped with was in Pomona, Calif.
I was going to be leading a discussion for a seminar for metro editors a couple weeks after I heard of plans to hire a director of tailored programs. So I emailed Drew, telling him why I should be that person. I offered to come in early or stay a day later, but Drew scheduled me for an hour after my seminar, before I had to head to the airport.
Drew is a man who gets to the point and moves on quickly. We covered a lot of ground in a little time. I began to think I had a shot at the job.
It didn’t take long in a discussion with Drew to learn that he was a brigadier general in the Marine Reserves. You could tell. He was in full command of our conversation, briskly covering what API was doing, and asking pointed questions about my training and marketing experience and telling about this job and about his plans to convene some great thinkers to develop a business model for the future of the news business.
I’m not sure whether I helped or hurt my bid for the job by mentioning that my father had been a career Air Force officer. Every branch of the military, of course, considers itself superior to the others, but none more so than the Marine Corps. While working at API, I heard him refer to the Air Force Memorial in Arlington as a “golf tee.” But maybe in the heavily civilian world of the newspaper business, a military brat from the golf-tee branch of the armed services had some appeal.
I thought a lot about the job after Drew dropped me off at the airport. I was a reporter at the Omaha World-Herald at the time, working hard on the side to develop my own training and coaching business. I wanted to join API and I wanted to be part of Drew’s plan to develop a new business model for news.
I spent the flight expanding on my pitch to API, elaborating on points we covered briskly in the interview and making some points I didn’t have time to make. I emailed the points to Drew the next morning. And by the following Monday, I had a job offer.
Drew knew what he wanted and made a quick decision and I joined him on API’s staff. I enjoyed working for and with him. He appreciated hard work and experimentation.
His vision led to the Newspaper Next project, which dominated most of my work at API.
One thing he taught me was about value. I was astonished at the fee he wanted to charge for API to deliver N2 workshops for newspaper companies. But we had a message the industry needed to hear. We were delivering value and even in tough times, dozens of newspaper companies paid to hear the message. The fees we collected gave API an outstanding financial year in a difficult year for the industry that supported us.
The newspaper industry listened eagerly to our message and applauded it vigorously. But sadly, the business responded mostly with tepid attempts at niche products. Our call for transformation, particularly for development of new revenue streams, was largely ignored and we all know how well things have worked out for newspapers.
I expect API will merge with the Newspaper Association of America, which just hired API board member Caroline Little as its new executive director.
Whatever happens now, I am grateful for Drew’s quick judgment in that one-hour interview six-plus years ago. And I’m especially grateful for the opportunity to learn about innovation through my involvement in N2. It may not have transformed newspapers, but it transformed my career.
Happy trails, Drew!