Simmons Q & A: Strong future for print
Friday, November 8, 2013
Posted by: Laura Sellers-Earl
By Devan Filchak
Ball State University
Debra Adams Simmons
joined The Plain Dealer in Cleveland as managing editor in 2007. She was named
editor in 2010. Previously, she worked as the editor and vice president of news
at the Akron Beacon Journal for four years. Other stops included the Detroit
Free Press and The Virginian-Pilot.
Simmons earned her
bachelor of arts degree from Syracuse University. She says networking and
mentors have been keys to her success.
Q: What drew you to journalism?
A: Really wanting
to make a difference in the world is what drove me to this profession. My
original plan after college was that I was going to take a year off to travel
the world and go to law school. During that year, I was offered … a nine-month internship at the local
paper in Syracuse, N.Y. I was going to do that nine-month postgraduate
internship and then I was going to go to Africa and Europe. And then I was
going to start school in September. Two weeks into my post-graduate internship,
I was offered a full time permanent job. That was in 1986 and I’m still in the
industry, all of these years later.
Q: What are some of
the biggest challenges facing APME this coming year?
A: I think APME
has a unique opportunity this year to innovate and collaborate. As you know,
the industry is changing dramatically and APME is an organization of leaders
who are trying to lead through a period of dynamic change. I think anything
that we can do that helps our members develop tools to be successful as we
navigate changes would be a key calling for us. Certainly, we are celebrating
APME’s 80th anniversary. APME was founded 80 years ago in French Lick, Ind. And
I think it is important to celebrate the past 80 years and the work that has
come before us, as well as to plot of course for the future.
Q: What do you believe the future of pay walls will be?
A: I think that
the future of pay walls is undecided. Clearly, there are two schools of
thought. One is that people should pay to access information, but we also know
that young people believe that information should be free. At least in my
organization, there’s a hesitancy to cut information off from significant
numbers of audience members who want to engage with that information. I think
there is a lot of experimentation right now, and experimentation is critical
for our industry. I think we will assess the results of those experiments
before a decision is made about what the future of pay walls will be. I don’t
think we are absolutely moving toward pay walls or we’re absolutely not.
Several news organizations have dipped their toe in. Some have had tremendous
success; others have backed away. I think pay walls are one of many experiments
happening in the news industry. The verdict is still out on what the ultimate
outcome will be.
Q: What do you
believe is in the future of print?
A:: Based on the
readers that I hear from every day, I think print will continue to have a
future. I don’t think print is going away tomorrow. There are many people who
continue to like words on paper. I would also say though, based on the feedback
I have received as we’ve gone through substantial change here in Cleveland, the
response is generational. Many of the readers of our content under 40 really
prefer digital content. Many of those people say, ‘I never pick up a paper. I
read the e-edition of the paper. I read your website, but I’m not a paper
person.” The 40- to 70-year-old age group knows digital is where the future is
moving. They don’t love it, but they have kind of resigned to the fact that
this is the direction we are moving in. The 70 and over crowd is angry. They
want print; they want it every day, and they want it to be the way it used to
be. The challenge for newspaper editors is figuring out how to navigate all of
the ways our audience likes to access our information. Print continues to be a
huge part of that. For most news organizations, print revenue continues to pay
the bills, even as their digital audiences are expanding exponentially. So
we’re going to have to figure out how to do it all. But print is still alive
and well and making a huge difference in communities across America.
Q: How would you
describe the importance of social media in today’s media environment?
A: I think social
media is critical in today’s media environment. When I think about some of the
biggest stories covered in my community in the past couple of years, social
media was in the center both in terms of newsgathering and news dissemination.
Engagement is key to the work that we do. We need new sources talking to us, so
social media is a great way to access people and information. And we need to
spread information on as many platforms as we can. Social media enables us to
do both of those things better than we have ever been able to before. For
years, our work was a one-way conversation with our audience. Social media has
opened up tremendous opportunities to have a two-way conversation or a multiple
way conversation with the audience.