A Poynter story said you joined USA Today to create an investigative network?
When [Gannett] split [spun off its publishing and broadcast businesses into separate companies], CEO Bob Dickey helped de-silo the company and create the USA Today network. It allows us to tap into the combined power of more than 3,000 journalists across the country and create a news organization unlike any other. Any journalist in any newsroom can come up with a great idea and have the resources to support it.
In our first year as a network, and a first for USA Today, we were a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting for a series about abusive teachers. We ran a national series in USA Today, but every market could localize the story using data we provided to all our properties.
How do you make people look at USA Today differently?
We build that by doing it, right? For example, we broke news then-candidate Donald Trump was involved in more than 3,500 lawsuits, a large portion of which were for non-payments to small business owners. That became a major part of the campaign conversation.
The network is still in its infancy; the fact we’ve done that amount of good work that’s gotten that much attention already is how we build the reputation. You’ll see our biggest competitors retweet our work, saying, "You’ve got to read this from USA Today."
We’re currently the leaders on coverage of Trump and his real estate dealings, having found 400 properties his companies own, worth more than $250 million, could pose a conflict of interest. USA Today wasn’t known for this kind of reporting before, but the more we do the more we’re known.
Where does PR fit into that?
Chrissy Terrell, director of corporate comms and PR, and the folks working with her are so important. It’s never been more important to get your voice out there. It also helps with the credibility factor. When people know the faces of different journalists, it makes you feel you know them.
Big media brands reported a "Trump Bump" - have your properties reported similar increases?
In local journalism you win by being local. You don’t have a unified constituency per se, but they have a deep interest in local issues.
Has that translated into dollars?
The Trump Bump people talk about is more like a ratings bump when you cover Trump. But local markets are not in that game.
How does USA Today combat the spread of misinformation and fake news?
We do what we’ve always done: strive for the highest quality of journalism.
People seem to have a greater level of trust in local media, because they’re reporters in the community. We’re looking at ways to communicate and interact more with our audience. We’re focused on doing more live events.
One of the best parts of Gannett is its creativity and innovation. We have the first VR news shot, VRtually There. Soon we will have drone training for 10 local markets. We’re building video franchises under Russ Torres, who came to us from Yahoo! We emphasize to our journalists that they should think about the best way to tell a story.
Is media powerless to solve fake news?
Perhaps I’m being the eternal optimist, but I do not see this as a lasting problem. Ultimately, truth wins out. Yellow Journalism was similarly cyclical and eventually burnt itself out.
We shouldn’t give it the name fake news, or bad journalism, because it’s neither news nor journalism - it’s just fake content.
You just wrote a book on gender inequality - what’s the greatest challenge to achieving gender parity in the workplace?
Unconscious bias underlies a lot of the issues. It’s unintentional, but it ends up putting women at a disadvantage. You see it in every meeting among senior people: women are just not heard as much as men. There was a study of the Supreme Court and female justices were interrupted three times more than their male counterparts. This happens at every level. It’s none of that old-fashioned, "Women don’t belong in the workforce" stuff. Most of this is subtle, unconscious stuff. I would also note that women have the same biases toward working women as men do.
A lot of the answer to this is just awareness. There are fixes we can make in our own behavior.