If you’re interested in transforming your news operation, you should contact Matt DeRienzo right away.
In my time at Digital First Media, I never saw an editor who was more imaginative or determined in facing the challenges of digital transformation. If you’re looking for a leader for a digital news operation or a newspaper that’s moving too slowly in becoming digital-first, Matt should be at the top of your list.
I wanted to capitalize “Digital-First” in the headline and paragraph above, because no editor working for a newspaper fits that description more than Matt does. But since he’s leaving the company that still uses that name, I guess I’ll use lower case.
For all his digital skill and passion, Matt is a journalist first. He led DFM’s Connecticut newsrooms through excellent coverage of the Sandy Hook tragedy, innovated in coverage of politics, led reporting on a small town’s bullying of rape survivors and many more journalism achievements.
Matt also understands the business challenges facing journalism in this time of transition. He was publisher of the Register Citizen and saw the business value of the Newsroom Cafe that helped his operation return to profitability while increasing community engagement.
Where other people make excuses, Matt gets things done. When I first visited DFM’s Connecticut newsrooms in June 2011, a few months before Matt became editor, the whiteness of the staffs was really noticeable, an unfortunate situation especially in a community with as diverse a population as New Haven. As with other newsrooms around DFM and throughout the newspaper business, the Connecticut news staffs have shrunk since 2011. But, by making diversity and quality dual priorities, Matt used the vacancies he did have to increase both the diversity and the excellence of the staff.
When a couple staff members plagiarized on his watch, Matt responded not just forcefully, by firing the offenders, but creatively, by asking me to develop a quiz and training to help prevent future problems.
Matt didn’t just demand more of his staff, he developed a plan to provide training and incentives to meet the demands. (That the training incentives weren’t entirely successful doesn’t diminish the creativity of the approach; to succeed at innovation, you need to be willing to risk and fail, and Matt fears neither risk nor failure. And the plan did succeed in providing more training for the staff.)
I worked closest with Matt in Project Unbolt, the effort to “unbolt” DFM newsrooms’ culture and workflow from the print factory that dominates most newsrooms, however much they’ve tried to develop digital skills. Matt enthusiastically volunteered to be a pilot newsroom as soon as I proposed the project. He embraced the concept and led his newsrooms in pursuing the transformation. I’m not sure you ever reach the finish line in such a race, but I didn’t see any newsroom pushing farther or faster than Matt’s.
I don’t know what lies next for Matt. But I know his departure is a huge loss for DFM. And his arrival will be a huge gain wherever his next stop will be.