Publisher Frank Blethen announced at a Seattle Times staff meeting today that he would create a new position of editor—essentially an editor-in-chief—naming Kathy Best to run the newsroom, while eliminating the roles of managing editor and executive editor.
Best will effectively replace David Boardman—the executive editor I praised when he announced in July he'd leave the paper. Rumor has it the newsroom is relieved to finally have a new leader after being adrift since Boardman announced he was jumping ship.
In a hubris-y memo to staff, Blethen proclaims, "In terms of meaningful journalism, sustaining print audiences and building digital audiences—no one in the business has performed better than The Seattle Times," while Best waxes on the paper's mission to publish "useful, meaningful, kick-ass journalism that readers can’t get anywhere else," and notes, "we already do those things better than anyone else in the Northwest." She goes on to announce a shake-up of staff positions.
The memo to Seattle Times staff—some of whom are truly great journalists and some of whom are Joni Balter, Bruce Ramsey, and Lynn Thompson—is after the jump.
I am very pleased to announce that Kathy Best has been named Editor of The Seattle Times. Attached are my comments and those of Kathy Best from our meeting with newsroom employees just now. Please take a moment to read them – and to congratulate Kathy as she takes on this important role.
Comments of Frank Blethen, Publisher:
I am very excited to announce a new senior editor leadership team – a team which will continue our remarkable story of stewardship and perseverance. A team which will lead us the rest of the way into a vibrant, sustainable 21st century model for a journalism/public service organization.
In terms of meaningful journalism, sustaining print audiences and building digital audiences – no one in the business has performed better than The Seattle Times - quite an accomplishment for one of America’s last independents, and in the face of extraordinarily challenging economic circumstances. We have never lost sight that we are a mission-based organization, or that our mission must be the foundation of our business model.
Coming out of the 2008-2009 economic collapse we recognized the old days were past. To survive and thrive we had to rebuild as a dynamic, flexible and innovative company. Reorganizing our senior management in 2010 created a platform for continuous change and evolution in our senior structure. We are currently undergoing significant transformation in Technology and Advertising – and now in News.
Effective today, we have eliminated the traditional positions of executive editor and managing editor and naming Kathy Best to the new position of Editor. In a moment she will share with you the other changes in News’ senior leadership.
I have asked Suki Dardarian to take on a unique new role as Director, Audience Development and Innovation, reporting directly to me with a dotted line to Alan Fisco, Executive Vice President -Revenue and New Products. Suki will work across departments on innovative approaches to audience, content and monetization. She will also work closely with news on innovation, community engagement and staff development.
I can’t say enough about how appreciative I am for the great leadership Kathy and Suki have provided in their previous managing editor roles. Nor, about how creative and helpful they have been in assisting me in designing an organization built to sustain our journalism, complete our multi-platform transformation and take us to the next level. Thank you, Kathy and Suki.
Kathy will share with you a few words and introduce her new team and then Suki will share a few words about her new role.
In my 28 years as Seattle Times publisher, I have only had two editors: Mike Fancher and Dave Boardman. Each was an excellent match for our needs at the time. We transformed into the nation’s best regional newspaper, wining Pulitzers and winning the marketplace. We painfully, but successfully, kept our mission and audiences in tact through a very difficult economic period. And, we executed on a vision that digital would someday become as important to our mission and business model as print.
I have every confidence that Kathy is the perfect editor to now lead us through our next step of journalistic excellence and digital integration, and, that our best days of journalism and community service are yet to come.
Comments of Kathy Best, Editor:
Thank you, Frank. I am eager to take on this challenge and I appreciate your confidence in me. Because I grew up in a newspaper family, I know what’s at stake. I’ll do my best to make sure The Seattle Times’ tradition of community stewardship continues to thrive as we transition into a true multi-media news organization.
To do that, all of us in this room need to stay laser focused on our mission: producing useful, meaningful, kick-ass journalism that readers can’t get anywhere else.
Together, we already do those things better than anyone else in the Northwest and as well as anyone in the country. The journalistic experience, the digital talent, and the formidable reporting and writing skills in this newsroom are our greatest assets. We need you to leverage them going forward to produce:
n Sunday newspapers that, week in and week out, are showcases for elegant storytelling, great watchdog and investigative stories, and unexpected delights — from a dazzling sense-of-place photo to a must-read column to an infographic that pulls you in and won’t let you leave.
n Web presentations – from Sea Change to the Seahawks Game Center — that take full advantage of multimedia storytelling tools and, just as important, pull readers into the conversation.
n Daily news reports – in print and online — that continue to set the news agenda for the region — and trumpet that fact.
n Content and storytelling that creates a strong sense of place and community connection for all our citizens.
In short, we need to be so compelling that readers throughout the Puget Sound region will choose us over other alternatives and willingly pay for our work.
But great journalism alone won’t guarantee our success. We also need to find new ways to package and sell what we do, expanding our reach.
I look forward to partnering with Suki in her new role to make that happen by building our print and digital audiences.
I realize I am following in some very big footsteps in taking this job. I am going to need the help of each and every one of you to succeed.
I’m also going to need a leadership team that works close to the ground, getting its hands dirty. That’s why I’ve asked:
Jim Simon to become deputy managing editor, focusing on Sunday and enterprise and bringing all of our hard news – metro, business and Jim Neff’s investigative team — under one umbrella.
Michele Matassa Flores will be returning to the Times as assistant managing editor/entertainment, overseeing sports and features. These two areas produce some of our most engaging content. Michele will make sure we’re making the most of it, particularly on mobile platforms. She also will work with the editors to push more of their stories to the front page. And she will work with Lynn Jacobson and her talented team to help us rebuild features to regain some of the readers we lost when we cut too deeply there.
Ryan Blethen will become assistant managing editor/digital, working with Mark Higgins, Bob Payne and our amazing crew of producers to make sure we are delivering the right content on the right platforms to build digital subscriptions. He also will ensure the newsroom has the information, training and skills required to keep us relevant and help us succeed against today’s competitors — and those that pop up tomorrow.
Leon Espinoza will become the assistant managing editor for standards and interactivity. He will safeguard the credibility of The Seattle Times on all platforms and make sure we are listening to our readers, not just talking at them.
Whitney Stensrud will become the assistant managing editor for visuals, giving voice to readers who prefer to consume information through photos, interactive graphics, charts, videos and illustrations. This change plugs a big gap that is more critical than ever in an age of tablets and smart TVs.
To help with this, Denise Clifton is coming back full time for the next year to work with me to develop a cross-platform visual strategy which reflects and captures the attention of our audiences who live in a very visual world. She will also, along with Lisa Cowan, represent our needs in the company’s major investment in a new digital platform and CMS.
Carole Carmichael, in her continuing role as assistant managing editor, will build on her success at connecting us with the community by working with both Suki and me on outreach and engagement initiatives.
But I don’t just want to focus on bosses today. We’re not standing still in the rest of the newsroom, either.
We’re filling reporting vacancies, bringing in top-notch journalists, such as Jay Greene in business and Lewis Kamb in Metro. We’re soliciting grants that have allowed us to hire talented reporters like Claudia Rowe. And we’re leveraging every dollar we bring in to enhance our journalism.
We’re also redeploying existing resources to get the biggest bang we can. Don Shelton, for example, has basically remade the sports department, moving Larry Stone to a columnist job, where he already has become a must read; moving Geoff Baker into a sports biz and investigations role that will give us firepower in a critical area; teaming up Bob Condotta and Jayson Jenks to cover the biggest sports story of the year, the Seahawks; and even hiring a Duck – Adam Jude — to cover the Huskies!
This is an uncertain time to be a journalist. But in that uncertainty lies opportunity – to learn quickly, to experiment boldly, to change nimbly and to grow smartly. That’s got to be our M.O. going forward.
Very few newspapers and journalism organizations in the country have our commitment to strong, independent journalism and community service that makes a difference. We are passionate about building an enduring news organization for the 21st Century.
Thanks to each of you for what you have done and what we will do – together. Now let’s get going.