Joanne Lipman becomes editor in chief of USA Today

March 20, 2017
Category: Business & Work

Joanne Lipman, who joined Gannett 15 months ago to create an investigative network of the company’s 109 community papers, today was named editor-in-chief of USA Today.

Lipman said in a phone interview that she is “pleased at how the USA Today Network has come together…. I’m awed by the increased quality and ambition in the work.”

But rather than job accomplished, she sees her new post as a way to create still more original national content in USA Today’s digital and print reports, Lipman said.

She succeeds Patty Michalski, who had been acting editor in chief since David Callaway’s departure in June 2016. Michalski, a digital news specialist, will stay with the company as executive editor of digital and director of digital audience development.

In another change, made internally a month ago but not announced then, Maribel Wadsworth has become chief transformation officer, effectively the number two executive to Gannett CEO Bob Dickey.

Lipman said that part of her portfolio includes developing innovative ways to reach a wider audience. The USA Today Network was an early entrant into producing VR/360 video and has also increased traditional video and podcasts over the last year.

Next up, Lipman said, will be drone journalism with a training program beginning soon for journalists at USA Today and nine of the community papers.

Earlier in her career, Lipman launched the Weekend and Personal Journal sections of the Wall Street Journal and Portfolio, a business magazine for Conde Nast, that was well-received editorially but folded in the 2008-2009 crash.

Lipman does not seem to have radical changes in mind for the print edition of USA Today or see any swing back from the growing digital emphasis of recent years.

She views the front page of USA Today, Lipman said, as “a great billboard for what we are doing.” This morning’s, for example, features an investigative piece from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on drug side effects.

Another example of the network’s local-to-national method, she said, has been the Indianapolis Star’s reporting on sexual abuse in U.S. women’s gymnastics, prominently played in USA Today.

I asked Lipman whether Washington-based USA Today is a little less Trump-centric than other national newspapers.

“Well, we are aggressively covering the Trump administration,” she said and noted an investigation last fall rounding up the hundreds of lawsuits against various of his companies.

“But our audience is more spread out across the country and cares about a wide variety of topics….March Madness and the Oscars are big stories for us.”

USA Today is celebrating Women’s History Month with a story a day. Lipman said that she was particularly pleased with a “smart piece” last Thursday on a glossary of feminist terms.

While USA Today’s editorial fortunes are on the rise, Gannett’s business performance has languished. Like the rest of the industry, it has experienced deep print advertising losses over the last three quarters. And its six-month attempt last year to acquire Tronc Inc. proved unsuccessful.

Shares of Gannett stock are trading around $8.00, down about 20 percent from the start of 2017.