Transparency will speed the turnaround

My weekly column for the daily newspaper I lead in Torrington, Conn., this week talks about our new school superintendent, whose selection raised eyebrows because it was his first superintendent job and he’s only 33 years old.
He inherited a lot of problems, and a closed, arrogant culture of one-sided decision-making and poor communication with the people the school district is serving. Just a few segments, you know, like students, parents, teachers and taxpayers.
He has a whole “transparency” thing going, writing a blog open for everyone to read that details why he has made specific decisions (how he calls a snow day was the most interesting so far … it’s unbelievable how much criticism and second-guessing happens no matter what you do in anything short of a blizzard here).
The new CEO of our company, John Paton, is taking a similar approach, starting with unprecedented (for us) openness and outreach to the more than 3,000 employees of Journal Register Company, and writing a blog of his own to detail how he’s transforming the company into a traditional print-focused newspaper company to a multi-platform local media company.
He’s putting it out there knowing that not every step along the way will be smooth. We’ll try some things and fail at them. Other experiments will work.
Not being afraid to try new things and fail in public is a necessary part of “the new news ecology.”
It’s not something traditional newspaper managers are used to. But as I conclude in my column today:
When you are publishing something as high-profile and public as a local newspaper or local news Web site, or running a public institution such as a school district, people are already discussing your strengths, weaknesses, mistakes, opportunities.
It’s time to engage them in that discussion, learn everything we can, and grow. How exciting is that?

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About mattderienzo

Matt DeRienzo has worked for more than 20 years as a reporter, editor, publisher and corporate editorial director and has been recognized nationally for leading newsroom innovation. He teaches journalism at Quinnipiac University, writes a monthly column for Editor & Publisher magazine, and serves as interim executive director of LION Publishers, a national network of local independent online news site publishers. Previously, he served as group editor of Digital First Media's publications in Connecticut, including the New Haven Register, Middletown Press, Register Citizen and Connecticut Magazine, and Northeast regional editor for Digital First Media. He also served as publisher of The Register Citizen, Middletown Press and a group of weeklies in Northwest Connecticut, and before that was corporate director of news for small dailies and non-daily publications for the former Journal Register Company. In early 2011, The Register Citizen was named one of Editor & Publisher magazine's "10 Newspapers That Do It Right," and DeRienzo was named to its annual "25 Under 35" list of leaders in the newspaper industry. In the fall of 2011, The Register Citizen was awarded the Associated Press Managing Editors Innovator of the Year Award in recognition of The Register Citizen Newsroom Cafe, an "open newsroom" launched in Torrington, Connecticut, in December 2010. He led a team of more than 100 journalists in covering the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in late 2012 and 2013, and has been honored for his editorial writing and leadership of public service and investigative reporting. In 2014, his efforts at the New Haven Register were recognized with the APME's and ASNE's Robert C. McGruder Award for Leadership in Newsroom Diversity. DeRienzo is a former longtime board member of the United Way of Northwest Connecticut, and served as co-chairman of the United Way's annual fundraising campaign in 2009 and again in 2011. In 2011, he received the organization's Lifetime Achievement Award.
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