On Tuesday, Audrey Cooper became the first female editor-in-chief of the San Francisco Chronicle in its 150-year history.
Cooper, who was previously the paper’s managing editor, has gained attention for her efforts to jumpstart the paper’s innovative juices by borrowing a concept from city’s startup scene: an incubator billed as a digital journalism boot camp charged with turning around the paper’s legacy culture.
Now that she’s been named editor-in-chief, Cooper tells Poynter in a Q and A she will continue to push for innovation and double down on the paper’s investigative efforts:
How big of a deal is it to be the first woman selected for this job? And how is it not a big deal?
Cooper: It’s an honor to have the job and an interesting historical fact that I am the first woman to have it. Newsrooms thrive when they have the most diverse perspectives possible, and certainly I’ve had different life experiences than my male peers. I look forward to the day when women can be promoted to the top of any profession and nobody will think it noteworthy.
You’re well-known for fostering innovation throughout your newsroom. Do you intend to continue that trend? If so, how?
Cooper: Absolutely. No business can continue unless its leaders consistently ask what can be improved — the news business is no different. We’ll be adding people to the newsroom who will help us try new ways of telling stories and, most importantly, reaching new readers.
What are some of the most important storylines in the San Francisco community right now?
Cooper: Certainly the changes in the local economy affect nearly everything we cover, including housing prices, politics and even the area’s amazing restaurant scene. The Bay Area continues to be the place that changes the world, whether it’s in politics or tech or food, and we’re very invested in reporting on those changes with a critical lens.
What are your editorial priorities coming into the job? What are your ambitions for the paper?
Cooper: We will be adding investigative reporters to the newsroom as well as more digital journalists who can help us build up sfchronicle.com. We will continue to experiment with ways to tell stories and attract new readers. And we will continue to look do more to engage directly with our readers, including on social media and at Chronicle-hosted events. I want to provoke and inspire both our journalists and our readers.
San Francisco is the technology capital of the world. What are your plans to cover Silicon Valley and the startup scene?
Cooper: Last year we added reporters and editors to the business staff in order to more thoroughly cover the benefits and costs of the region’s tech boom. We redefined nearly every beat. It’s important that we not gloss over the benefits of this boom, but it’s even more important that we lead the conversation about the not-so-glamorous parts as well. You can see that in the eight-month multimedia reporting project we recently published on San Francisco’s oldest neighborhood, The Mission, which is really ground zero for the change that is happening in the city.
Do you have any advice for aspiring female newsroom leaders? Is there anything you wished you’d done differently that young journalists can learn from now?
Cooper: There’s plenty I wish I had done differently, but each bad decision I’ve ever made helped inform a good one I made later. The great thing about the daily news business is we get to start from scratch every day. We can’t be afraid to change things if we think they can be made better, and you have to rely on your colleagues to challenge you every day.