3 Ways To Lead a ‘Digital First’ News Organization
November 29, 2013
Mary Clare Fischer

When Jim Brady left his post as assistant managing editor of Washingtonpost.com in 1999 to head to AOL, some of his fellow Washington Post employees told him he was crazy. Why would he leave at a time when the paper was so successful? The web, they said, was just a fad.

But one of those reporters — Richard Justice, now an MLB.com columnist — had a different opinion, Brady said.

“Really, really smart,” Brady recalled Justice saying. “We’re all going to be working for you in 10 years.”

Brady is now the editor-in-chief of Digital First Media, an umbrella organization that oversees the production of about 175 daily newspapers as well as several magazines and websites.

He recently visited the University of Maryland to talk about his work and give recommendations to aspiring journalists.

He broke down the core mission of Digital First into three tenets (and advice for those looking to do well in a web-based world):

1) Put digital people in charge

“When we sit around the table and someone talks about what Foursquare is, we don’t have to spend the next 10 minutes explaining what it is.”

2) Change the compensation structure for your advertising team

“We don’t tell them to stop selling print, but they get a big bonus if there’s a digital flood.”

3) Flood newsrooms with equipment

“At one of our papers in Paradise, Calif., the guy had to hold the viewfinder open with one finger to shoot.”

Brady has also put the emphasis on local reporting; Digital First employs a group of about 40 journalists based in New York that focuses on national coverage, which can be repurposed at multiple papers, as well as a six-person data team available for all the papers as needed.

He stressed both the ability to use all kinds of storytelling tools and the need to specialize in one skill, especially key areas such as breaking news, investigative reporting and community engagement.

“If you’re kind of good at reporting and kind of good at editing and kind of good at shooting video, you’re only gonna be kind of good at finding a great job,” Brady said. “You need to figure out what the sun in your solar system is.”


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