Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Matt DeRienzo’

Matt DeRienzo

Matt DeRienzo

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.

 

 

Read Full Post »

Digital First Media’s Connecticut newsrooms did some old-school watchdog reporting in their Sunshine Week project this spring. But they took a digital-first approach in planning and executing the project.

This post is mostly going to be a guest post by Viktoria Sundqvist, investigations editor for the Register Citizen and Middletown Press. Vik and Michelle Tuccitto Sullo, investigations editor for the New Haven Register, led the project, published in March. They started planning the project and did the reporting while I was in Connecticut working on Project Unbolt and I made a tiny contribution.

This was a traditional watchdog reporting project in many ways:

  • The project held local police accountable, checking how well every police department in Connecticut followed the state’s Freedom of Information law.
  • The work involved shoe-leather reporting, with reporters from DFM’s newsrooms visiting every police station in the state to ask for records that should be public (I checked the town of Plymouth).
  • The reporters wrote a big newspaper story about their results.
  • The project had impact, forcing changes by police departments that were revealed to be violating the law.

Here’s how the project took a different digital-first approach: (more…)

Read Full Post »

This continues my series on advice for new Digital First editors.

One of an editor’s most important jobs is developing other leaders in your newsroom. A top editor should:

Understand your staff’s aspirations. Except at the largest newsrooms, an editor should take the time to learn what everyone on your staff wants from their careers. Not everyone wants to be an editor, but if someone wants to be an editor (and shows potential), you should know that and watch for opportunities to develop and show their leadership skills. On a bigger staff, you should know the aspirations of your mid-level editors, and perhaps a few other stars, and expect the mid-level managers to know the aspirations of their staffs. You can’t always control whether you hang onto your best people, but your odds are better if you know what they want from their careers and are helping them pursue those goals.

Provide opportunities. Weekend or holiday editing slots or late-night and early-morning shifts give some budding staff members their shots at running the show (as I did on Sundays as a young assistant city editor at the Des Moines Register). Give some authority (and some clear guidance) to potential leaders and see how they perform in these positions.

Know when to let others lead. Some big news stories require all hands on deck and require leadership from the top. But sometimes a top leader can show leadership by stepping back and letting the budding leaders lead. You put people in key leadership positions to do a particular job. Remember to let them do that job.

I remember hearing Libby Averyt, then the editor of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, describe her staff’s coverage of the big national story that broke in their back yard when Vice President Dick Cheney shot a hunting buddy in the face by accident. That broke on a weekend and Libby checked in by phone but resisted the urge to bigfoot the weekend editor by rushing in to run the show. If someone’s not getting the job done, you can often direct from home. Or you might need to come in if someone’s in over his head (then follow up with some coaching). (more…)

Read Full Post »

A journalism student asked me a question last night that reflects a common concern among professional journalists and media managers:

I wasn’t exactly pleased with my reply (as tirelessly as I encourage journalists to use  Twitter, can I still blame the 140-character limit?):

Then this morning I got around to blogging about some analysis Matt DeRienzo did recent of Digital First Media’s branded Twitter accounts in Connecticut, and I realized Matt had a better answer: Serving your Twitter audience effectively drives traffic to your website better than trying to drive traffic. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Journalists in Digital First newsrooms in Connecticut will earn bonuses as they master important digital skills.

Matt DeRienzo, Group Editor for Connecticut, announced plans today for Digital Ninja School, a plan to help staff members develop skills in five key digital areas: digital publishing, social media, blogging, video and data.

Newsroom training has been a passion of mine since the mid-1990s, and I am pleased and proud that training plays such a prominent role in Digital First efforts to change our company’s business model, culture and workflow. I first discussed this plan with Matt on a visit to the Register Citizen in Torrington last June. As Matt acknowledged on Twitter today, the “ninja” concept is “super hokey.” But what’s super-important is that the ninja “belts” that journalists earn through the program are backed up by actual cash. A journalist earning all five belts will earn $2,000 in bonuses (to say nothing of the opportunities for advancing to positions that pay more.

In each of the five areas, journalists will complete some core requirements and choose some electives to master through a mix of workshops, webinars and hands-on experience. On the Ninja School blog, journalists will document their training and their use of the skills on the job. To complete additional levels, you need to document that you are still using the skills from previous belts.

Journalists take the initiative in deciding which belts to earn first, and what they need to do to master each skill. Supervisors go over plans with the journalists and provide the time and resources to complete the training. Chris March, Matt and I have compiled an extensive list of training resources.

If you expect journalists to use new skills on the job, you need to provide training to help them master those new skills. Through Digital Ninja School, our journalists in Connecticut have resources, time and incentives to become better digital journalists. I look forward to helping in Ninja School training. I hope and expect that a similar comprehensive training program will be offered before long throughout the company.

Read Full Post »

The Connecticut newsrooms of Digital First Media have dealt with two instances of plagiarism in recent months.

After the first incident, we encouraged staff members to read my blog posts about attribution and cheating. After the second, Matt DeRienzo, our Connecticut group editor, suggested a quiz to ensure that staff members understand what plagiarism is and how to attribute their research. (After all, plagiarism generally starts with good research; the problem is the failure to attribute.) I developed the questions and Chris March set the quiz up. Matt made sure that every journalist in our Connecticut newsrooms took the quiz, and he discussed the results with them.

We thought the plagiarism and attribution quiz would accomplish several things: (more…)

Read Full Post »

Digital-first editors are caught in transition.

Many are longtime print editors. However much they have been embracing and resisting the digital transformation the past couple decades (and most of us have been doing some of both), they understand now that the future is digital and they want to help lead that newsroom of the future. Even the editors who are digital natives who’ve worked more online than in print are caught in this transition because they are leading staffs through the transition.

Don’t look at the suggestions here as an exact checklist for the digital-first editor. We want editors who don’t need checklists, who find creative solutions for their newsrooms. The staff dynamic, size and abilities, the community’s needs and the editor’s own strengths, weaknesses and creativity will determine the right leadership approach for each newsroom. And the challenges and opportunities for each newsroom are unique, at least in their details, and leadership must respond to them with solutions that are unique, at least in their details.

Don’t look at this checklist as a yardstick by which to measure the success or failings of a particular editor. Perhaps some editor excels in all of these areas (I wouldn’t, if I were still leading a newsroom), but that would be a rare editor.

View these as my suggestions for digital-first editors trying to meet the challenges and opportunities this transition: (more…)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »