Mentoring is a commitment
NEX GEN program is just the starting point
Christian Hendricks says he has mentored people in the local news industry for many years, so he was happy to join SNPA's NEX GEN program for young people on the way up. As corporate vice president of products, marketing and innovation for McClatchy, Hendricks said his experience in digital media dates back to the mid-1990s when it was called "interactive media."
So Hendricks was a good match for Laura Ray Iwanski, digital sales director for Morris Communications markets in Savannah, Ga., and Bluffton, S.C. Despite an unavoidable interruption in her NEX GEN experience from Hurricane Matthew, Iwanski said she "lucked out," being paired with Hendricks.
"It was a super-exciting time, just because I'd been a part of programs within Morris before, but not anything that allowed me to connect with people outside the organization, to get a different perspective," Iwanski said.
Iwanski graduated from the University of Kentucky with a major in marketing and advertising. She joined Morris in 2010.
"I definitely have always had a passion for media and marketing," Iwanski said. "I'm a millennial, so I tend to lean towards the digital side not only in my personal life, but as I was going through college I started to realize how rapidly the shift in digital was happening."
She said much of her job entails helping traditionally trained print account executives to "embrace and adopt digital" and educate their clients about the benefits. Hendricks was helpful with that, she said. "We talked a lot about innovation and propelling a team that might not seemingly be ready to move forward."
Hendricks said he was able to connect her with people inside McClatchy who had dealt with the same challenge. He had been in digital since 1994, at one time holding the title of "vice president of interactive media." The digital division was eliminated in 2015 as a separate division because digital is now part of everything the company does.
"We were publishing on the internet before there were browsers," Hendricks said. "Everybody was trying to negotiate deals with closed platforms like AOL, Prodigy and Compuserve while we went straight to the internet."
Although a newspaper site visit did not take place because of the hurricane, Iwanski and Hendricks found that they were attending some of the same industry conferences, so they made it a point to get together. "She was out and about and I'm always out and about, so we would catch up with each other," Hendricks said.
With his previous experience as a mentor, Hendricks sees the process as flexible rather than locked in to a programmed approach. He considers himself more of an advocate than a mentor and the relationship as long-term.
An advocate has a stake in the success of the person he is helping, he said. "It's not a relationship I look at as, 'OK, the program is over, so bye.'" Some mentees have become family friends, he said.
In early October, Hurricane Matthew rolled up the coasts of Florida and Georgia before making landfall in South Carolina. Savannah was hit hard along with Morris properties in St. Augustine and Jacksonville in Florida.
The large majority of Savannah residents evacuated, Iwanski said. Because the Savannah Morning News building was constructed to withstand hurricanes, it also housed storm responders, the Salvation Army and employees who were forced out of their homes.
Everyone worked to get newspapers out to people's homes, and Iwanski said she gained a new appreciation for delivery people and the importance of print.
"I have nothing to do with the production/circulation side of the business," she said. "My husband and I ran a route. The publisher ran a route. The executive vice president of Morris traveled to Savannah from Augusta to roll papers, get in the car and throw newspapers also."
Rural areas around Savannah were without electricity, let alone the internet, for days, Iwanski said.
"The looks on their faces when we showed up with a paper when the postal service wasn't even running – they didn't know at all what was going on. It was a neat experience to be able to know that we what do really matters, and that the printed product is not as dead as a lot of people want to think it is."
Iwanski advises future NEX GEN participants to set agendas for phone calls and other contacts, and don't put things off just because they have a whole year in the program. As she learned, things like hurricanes can wreck the schedule.
Hendricks is also acting as a mentor in the current NEX GEN class. In addition to taking an advocate approach, he advises other mentors to make sure that mentees understand that they can trust their mentors.
"There's always the fear that what you say will somehow get back to your organization or your management. So there's a guard that's naturally put up," Hendricks said.
"I always tell people, look, whatever you tell me, it's not going anywhere. You make that clear."
Mentors should also realize that there's more to the job than checking off program requirements, he said. "It's a commitment. It's an investment in another person."
Read about additional NEX GEN participants' experiences:
Jane Nicholes is a veteran journalist based in coastal Alabama and is a regular contributor to SNPA. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Suggestions for future stories and comments on this piece are welcomed.