Last week, Kristin Roberts became McClatchy Co.’s first female editor to lead the publisher’s vast news operations (note Eleanor McClatchy was CEO from 1936 to 1978). As Vice President of News, Roberts joins the executive management team and will have oversight of 30 newsrooms across 14 states; McClatchy’s corporate news operations; and McClatchy Studios, which produces documentaries. She is charged with continuing the company’s transformation into a digital-first media enterprise.
Headed by President and CEO Craig Forman, McClatchy has made strides towards this goal in the past few years. In February 2018, it restructured its newsrooms into West, East, Central and the Carolinas Regions under the leadership of new regional editors to encourage collaboration and sharing of editorial talent and best practices. Last May, the company formed McClatchy New Ventures to invest in emerging technologies for immersive storytelling, and formed McClatchy Studios, which produced compelling serialized documentaries such as “Titletown, TX,” “The War Wihtin,” and “Carruth.” And in March, McClatchy and Google announced a partnership, The Compass Experiment, to operate pop-up digital news outlets in three underserved communities.
McClatchy has also been diversifying its newsrooms to include strong female leaders, such as Colleen McCain Nelson, the national opinion editor; Robyn Tomlin, regional editor, Carolinas; Lauren Gustus, regional editor, West region; Aminda Marqués Gonzales, executive editor and publisher of The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald; and Christina Lords, local editor of The Idaho Statesman.
Asked about Roberts’s plans at McClatchy, she said:
We are clear-eyed about the challenges we face in local news, and we are transforming with intention.
She continued, “That begins by putting our audience — both readers and viewers — first in every decision. What news and information do they need and want to live their best lives? How do they want that information delivered? When do they want to see it? These are the questions all of our teams across 30 newsrooms are asking every day.
That’s leading to thoughtful and rapid experimentation across the country aimed at determining what works, where to iterate and which practices to discard. Intelligent risk-taking is generating powerful journalism that is driving audience growth — from the multi-platform project Carruth, out of The Charlotte Observer with McClatchy Studios, to our solutions-focused event on the rural broadband crisis, produced by the Centre Daily Times in State College, Penn.”
Roberts opines, “Our transformation also depends on diversifying our newsrooms. McClatchy has a remarkable track record of female leadership. And we are making progress in ensuring that our newsrooms reflect the communities we serve. I consider this is a core task.”
There are signs these efforts are bearing fruit. McClatchy reports that in the first quarter its “digital-only audience revenues associated with digital-only subscriptions were up 50.4% and the number of digital-only subscribers ended the quarter at 179,100, representing an increase of 59.6% from the first quarter of 2018.” This growth, however, is not yet enough to cover the company’s losses in print subscriptions, but it is a move in the right direction.
Roberts joined McClatchy’s in 2017 as executive editor of the company’s Washington bureau and later assumed an expanded role as regional editor for the eastern region to lead nine McClatchy newspapers, including The Miami Herald and The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Roberts is a veteran journalist, earning her reporting chops at Thomson Reuters. Later, she had leadership roles at The National Journal and Politico. Roberts has an undergraduate degree from George Washington University, a Masters in National Security Policy Studies from Georgetown University and MS in Journalism from Columbia University.