August 4, 2008

The News Tribune, Tacoma, Wash., David Zeeck Column

By David Zeeck, The News Tribune, Tacoma, Wash.

Aug. 3--This past week I was promoted to publisher of The News Tribune.

And the next day I promoted Karen Peterson, the managing editor, into my old spot as executive editor.

Here are some of the reactions I got:

--My younger son, Michael, said he was going to buy me a present, in honor of the new job. "I'm going to buy you a book," he said. "'Publishing for Dummies.'"

--The chief finance guy here at the newspaper, Kenny Hubach, noted the job must not be very important and I must not have much pull with the newsroom any more. The story about me, he noted, ran at the bottom of the page, just below one about toads.

--Local independent blogger Eric Hanberg posted this question: "So what does the publisher do?"

--Overheard in the newsroom: "We're going back to tall," referring to my height (6 feet 5 inches), that of my predecessor, Cheryl Dell (5 feet and a bit more) and her predecessor, Betsy Brenner (about 6 feet tall).

So let me tell you a bit about the difference between the editor's job and the publisher's, and a bit about Karen Peterson.

The publisher is the chief executive at the paper. There are other executives who head each specialized activity at the company, and they report to me. They run the circulation department, or the advertising department, or information systems, or our Internet endeavors. Karen is the top executive in the news department, and is responsible for all the news content -- in print and online.

She reports to me as well. But at McClatchy papers the editor operates with near autonomy so that the newspaper's business interests don't influence or distort the newsroom's independence as a fair and evenhanded source of news.

My job isn't to head any one segment of our business, but to run the whole News Tribune enterprise. My job is both strategic -- thinking about the future and how to get there -- and operational -- making sure we do what our customers (both readers and advertisers) expect and increasing the value of the total business.

I'm an employee of The McClatchy Company, which owns The News Tribune. The company's expectations are that I be a good steward for our shareholders and for the community -- protecting and growing our public-interest news and information products (the newspaper, various Web sites and magazines), helping local businesses prosper through the advertising and marketing opportunities we offer, and helping build a better South Sound community.

Let me tell you a bit about Karen.

She took on her new job Thursday, eight years to the day since she began work at the TNT, as a suburban news editor.

She has been a reporter and an editor for newspapers in Hawaii and Indiana, and for an Army publication in Germany. Her husband is a retired infantry officer, and during his first tour at Fort Lewis in the late 1980s, she wrote for The Lakewood Press and started the monthly Pierce County Parent. She is a board member and treasurer of the Associated Press Managing Editors.

Her husband, Mike Peterson, now works for an Army contractor as a military trainer. They have two grown sons, Stevan (a Gig Harbor firefighter) and Jared (a soon-to-be Washington State University freshman), and live in Gig Harbor. She has a business degree from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo.

That's the resume part. What you might not know unless you work closely with her is that she's got fine news judgment, a great way with people, and a steel backbone on the important news issues -- open records and open government, investigative reporting, and reporting with an affection for the community.

The other thing that I think suits her incredibly well in this new assignment is her journalistic background. She's worked for weeklies and small dailies and metro dailies. She's been a reporter, an editor and a copy editor. She's written investigative stories and captions and headlines, and taken pictures to go with her stories.

And, as the spouse of a career Army officer, she's had to reinvent herself as a journalist every three years.

That's a pretty good skill set for the future we're going into: carrying strong values, broad talents and an open mind into a world that's constantly changing.

We still haven't sorted out who will write this column and when. I want to continue to write, but on a less frequent schedule, and more about broader issues affecting the newspaper and the community. Karen will be writing, as I have in the past, about news issues and things going on inside the newsroom.

Dave Zeeck: 253-597-8554, [email protected]


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