Don't hesitate to ask
That's Eliza Gaines' advice to participants in SNPA's NEX GEN mentoring program
Eliza Gaines is a 29-year-old vice president of audience development for WEHCO Media in Little Rock, Ark. Steve Gray is a 65-year-old vice president of strategy and innovation for Morris Communications. He mentored her in the 2015-16 class of NEX GEN, SNPA's structured mentorship program, and is the overall chairman of the program.
"His generation, most of them, sold the products in print form," said Gaines. "And then my generation is totally different. I have probably a handful of friends who take the newspaper.
"All their news is from the internet. That's the reality."
But with jobs and job descriptions changing so quickly, a formal mentorship program helps provide guidance and solve problems.
Over the next couple of months the eBulletin will look at the most recent NEX GEN class and find out what they got out of the program and what advice they have for future participants.
For Gaines, vice president of audience development and daughter of WEHCO chairman Walter Hussman Jr., keeping up with what's new in newspapers, magazines, digital, cable television, social media, the internet and whatever hasn't been invented yet is essential. She has to know how people are getting information to determine how to deliver it better.
"Steve and I had really good conversations every month," she said. "And I always left it feeling that I was really helped. Basically, I would bring whatever issues I was dealing with to him, and he would tell me how he would deal with it."
Conversations went on for at least an hour. One example of when Gaines sought advice was in handling a meeting of editors from around the state, all of whom brought problems to the table, but none of the problems were the same. She said Gray helped her give everyone the proper amount of attention and give them ideas for problem-solving.
Gaines was especially pleased with being able to meet Gray on a trip to The Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, the flagship paper for Morris. The basic elements of NEX GEN are telephone conversations at least monthly, occasional video conferences among all participants, one in-person meeting of mentor and mentee, and participation in SNPA's News Industry Summit.
Gray said he selected The Times-Union because it was the most similar Morris paper to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, WHECO's flagship paper. Gaines said it "wonderful" to see what works and how things are done differently at The Times-Union.
Gaines went on maternity leave in June (it's a girl) and plans to return to work in January. She said she won't hesitate to call Gray again when she needs advice. She advises other participants not to be shy about taking advantage of the program.
"I wish I would have called him more when I had a problem," Gaines said. "Instead of stewing on it, get an outside opinion. He has so much experience. So don't hesitate to call them or email them. Just get in touch."
Gray said he was recruited for NEX GEN by Edward VanHorn, executive director of SNPA, who matches up the mentors and applicants.
"Someone, usually an employer, nominates a mid-career professional, somebody who's young and has demonstrated a lot of potential, and the employer recognizes that this is a person who could really grow," Gray said.
"Ideally, you have highly accomplished, mature professionals matched up with rapidly advancing, high-potential, mid-career professionals."
Mentors with particular skills or experience are likely to pass that information along, he said. The video conferences were new for 2015-16. Some were group discussions; some had guest speakers and Gray was the leader of one session.
Mentors should ask questions that draw out topics with which they can help the mentees, Gray said. "What are you dealing with? What's keeping you up at night? What are your aspirations? What would you like to do next?"
Finding the right mentor is important in today's media environment and NEX GEN provides that service, he said.
"One of the undeniable facts of our industry was and is that for decades you could do what your predecessors had done and be assured of similar success. Today? Not so.
"Today it takes new ways of looking at the market around you, new ways of looking at the needs of business and the needs of consumers, and rethinking everything we do in light of the changed reality."
Jane Nicholes, a regular contributor to the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association's eBulletin, is a freelance writer and editor based in coastal Alabama. She is an award-winning veteran of more than 30 years in the newspaper business. Reach her at email@example.com. Suggestions for future stories and comments on this piece are welcomed.