Meet the NEX GEN class of 2015-16
SHANNON CASAS is metro editor of The Times in Gainesville, Ga., where she manages a staff of five full-time reporters, two photographers and three clerks.
In nominating her for the NEX GEN program, Publisher Charlotte Atkins called Casas a "dogged news hawk who pushes her reporters to dig deep into stories and tell them in compelling ways."
She called Casas an "executive editor in-waiting" and said she hopes the NEX GEN program will help her "round out her training and become a newsroom manager who can guide The Times into a changing and challenging – but exciting – future."
Casas has spent her entire 10-year career at The Times and believes she will "greatly benefit from seeing how other newsrooms and their leaders work." She also is looking to the NEX GEN program to learn how to better engage the paper's audience, better motivate reporters to dig deeper in their reporting and storytelling, and help others on her team reach their goals and the goals of the newsroom as a whole.
Casas was the driving force behind The Times' Broken Bonds package on the challenges of foster care in Hall County. Coverage before, during and since the series has included personal columns from Casas sharing her experiences as a foster parent. The series earned the top Community Service Award from The Associated Press among all large dailies in Georgia, sparked positive reader feedback, and was the paper's first-ever Pulitzer Prize submission.
Her mentor will be Barbara Hough Roda, executive editor, LNP Media Group, Lancaster, Penn.
ELIZA GAINES is vice president of audience development for WEHCO Media in Little Rock, Ark. She previously served as executive editor of The Sentinel-Record in Hot Springs, Ark., and assistant publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
She said her short-terms goals are to better understand behaviors of existing and new audiences and to research new storytelling formats. Long-terms goals are to drive audience engagement through new forms of content creation and to deliver best-quality products for all readers.
She added, "I believe learning about best practices from industry leaders could help as I navigate the changes we are trying to make at our newspapers, especially digital ventures."
Gaines was nominated for the NEX GEN program by her father, Walter E. Hussman Jr., publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Hussman noted that, while Gaines was executive editor of The Sentinel-Record, she "took responsibility for a redesign and revamp of the layout and content of our monthly magazine in Hot Springs, 'On the Go.' This was quite successful in terms of both readership and advertising revenue increases."
Gaines serves on the SNPA Board of Directors, representing Arkansas newspapers.
Her mentor will be Steve Gray, vice president of strategy and innovation for Morris Communications.
AMY IMTHURN is director of sales for The Dallas Morning News, where she leads a team of nine account executives with an exclusive focus on the automotive category (375 active accounts).
She has been in management since 1997, with each position increasing in responsibility and direct reports.
Imthurn is looking forward to the growth opportunities NEX GEN offers, including helping her learn to better strategize, build compelling cases against the "dying industry" mentality, and become an all-around better leader.
Jared Merves, general manager/digital for The Dallas Morning News, nominated Imthurn. He said: "Amy is a natural leader who is respected for her ability to drive results for her customers. Furthermore, Amy is relentness in providing her team with the tools and resources necessary to develop and succeed in their positions."
Among her professional achievements, she negotiated and implemented sponsorship agreements with major and minor league sports teams (total value $2.8 million); managed the special sections team to educate and encourage the sales staff to support the products (maintaining a minimum profit margin of 40 percent on all secial sections – 28 per year), and successfully created, trained, sold and led cross departmental campaigns for the 2014 Final Four and first ever College Football Playoff in 2015 (generating $1.1 million in new revenue).
Her mentor will be Brad Boggs, senior director/digital sales, Evening Post Industries/Informed Interactive, Charleston, S.C.
LISON JOSEPH joined LNP Media Group as enterprise editor in February of this year. He manages an eight-member team that reports on education, politics, business healthcare, technology, agriculture and the environment.
He previously was national editor/technology for The Economic Times, Bangalore, India.
He was nominated by Barbara Hough Roda, executive editor, LNP Media Group. She said Joseph came on board "as the LNP newsroom was working its way through ongoing, unprecedented and simultaneous changes. In the year and a half before his arrival, we had restructured the reporting beats, reorganized the newsroom and its leadership, initiated a digital-first approach, and redesigned the newspaper, which also, in October 2014, went through a name change. In May, we shifted our print operation to an off-site location and in August, launched a new, responsive website."
Managing the newsroom through this type of change required heavy lifting, Roda said. She said Joseph "serves as a stellar example of professionalism, demonstrating for others that the cause of journalism will not and must not be sacrificed to the changes in the industry. At the same time, he knows that we need to recalibrate the way we do our jobs. His intellectual curiosity is a godsend. His questions demonstrate insight. He is adept at and keen on learning more about the beats he oversees. Most importantly, he understands the people running those beats and is agile at motivating and guiding them not just as individuals, but as a team."
His mentor will be Christy Oglesby, managing editor/audience growth, Cox Media Group, Atlanta, Ga.
This year she was among those named as one of Editor & Publishers' top 25 Under 35.
Her long-term goals are to "continuously grow and develop not only my professional acumen, but also my leadership ability within the media industry. Digital media is an ever-changing environment, and leading our sales organization to become productive, multi-functional and solutions focused requires me to grow many different aspects of my professional repertoire."
Short-term, she wants to become "a better trainer, problem solver and needle mover" – all things that she is charging herself with in an era when "budgets are steep and the market competition is fierce."
Tony Bernados, vice president of the Savannah Morning News, nominated Ray for the NEX GEN program. "It won't take you long to see the high energy, passion and knowledge she possesses in the digital space ... and that is just scratching the surface," he said.
"Laura is respected among her peers, direct reports, upper management and corporate staff because she exudes drive, un-matched passion and a willingness to do whatever it takes to exceed expectations," he said. "In this ever-changing media landscape, you might agree that our success hinges on the talent and ability of our people. It is a luxury to have someone that speaks your language, engages well with others, executes consistently and delivers what she promises. I find all these qualities in Laura Ray."
Her mentor will be Christian A. Hendricks, vice president/products, marketing and innovation for The McClatchy Co., Sacramento, Calif.
LIZA ROBERTS is editor and general manager of Walter magazine, published by The News and Observer in Raleigh, N.C.
Orage Quarles III, president and publisher of The News and Observer, nominated Roberts for NEX GEN. He said: "It was Liza who approached me with the idea of starting a Raleigh city magazine. Not only did she have the vision, but Liza also put together a solid strategy plan that demonstrated why the magazine would be a huge success in the market. And she was right! The business experienced a profit after only 11 months and we have not looked back."
He said she has "a creative mind that blends nicely with her business acumen. Thanks to Liza, Walter magazine is a must read in the Triangle. This product is not only a magazine that is full of great stories and photos, it also gives our readers a sense of belonging and pride."
Quarles said Roberts also has been instrumental in finding ways to help brand many of the paper's other products in the market.
Roberts said, "I an excited at the prospect of a mentor. I have never really had one before, and know I would benefit greatly from one. I have had some wonderful roles and responsibilities, but they have all evolved organically, without strategy or a plan. I'd like to learn from someone who can help me to be more strategic and thoughtful."
Her mentor will be David Arkin, senior vice president of content and product development, GateHouse Media Inc., Austin, Texas.
NATE RODRIGUEZ is senior director of advertising/classified, agency, niche and magazines for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Rodriguez says his previous connections with the Western Classified Advertising Association helped to carve his career into what it is today. "That organization is no longer active," Rodriguez said, "and I miss the opportunity to idea share and grow my idea base through others in like situations."
He said he believes the NEX GEN program "will really allow me to branch outside of my normal responsibilities by being mentored by others with global responsibilities."
In his current role with The Las Vegas Review-Journal, Rodriguez's revenue responsibilities represent over 40 percent of the paper's total advertising revenue and over 50 percent of all digital sales.
He was nominated by Lee Bachlet, vice president of advertising and marketing at the paper. "In all my years of experience, some people stand out for their great qualities," Bachlet said, "Nate is one of those people. He is well respected throughout our organization for his knowledge, passion, intelligence, work ethic, positive attitude, teamwork mentality, leadership and diligence. He is a trendsetter, an innovator, a mentor, a leader and a trusted and highly-valued partner for me."
Saying that Rodriguez possesses "amazing potential," Bachlet says he has played an important role "in transforming our entire classified division by not only growing our digital revenues, but also our print revenues to exceed prior year. He also revamped our existing product portfolio and added more product offerings based on opportunities. In fact, he was so affective in this organization that we promoted him to manage our niche and magazine division as well."
Rodriguez's long-term goal is to serve in a regional leadership position or as a newspaper publisher.
His mentor will be Jeremy Halbreich, chairman and CEO, AIM Texas Media, Dallas, Texas.
BOBBY YOUNGS has recently been promoted at The Charlotte Observer into a role responsible for building a self-sustaining full-service digital ad agency at the paper.
Ann Caulkins, president and publisher of The Charlotte Observer, nominated Youngs for the NEX GEN program. She said his strong sales ability comes from his deep knowledge and understanding of the digital world.
"Advertising clients often say how impressed they are with Bobby's creative ideas and solutions," she said. "Once they buy a digital campaign, he works with them to track results – and those speak for themselves. When Bobby works with an advertiser, the retention of that customer is almost guaranteed." She added: "Bobby has been an incredible trainer of our staff. They like taking him out on calls because they learn so much from him."
She noted that Youngs was hired by the paper a little less than a year ago – initially as a digital sales specialist. He was promoted quickly to the lead role of the entire digital team and recently was promoted again. He now is leading the paper's own digital ad agency within The Charlotte Observer.
Caulkins said, "He was tasked with coming up with the idea, the business plan, the marketing and the right vendor partner. Bobby's ad agency background makes him prime for this role. His presentation of the new concept, along with his business plan, was one of the most impressive I have seen."
Youngs said he believes the NEX GEN program wil help him expand his knowledge of the newspaper industry and help him grow professionally. He said his long-term goal is "to develop a culture that meets more often to discuss the successes we are achieving for our clients than the sales successes we are achieving for ourselves."
His mentor will be Steve Dorsey, vice president/innovation and planning, Austin American-Statesman, Austin, Texas.
Learn more about the mentors for this year's class: click here
Would you like to nominate someone for the NEX GEN class of 2016-17?
Information and nomination forms for the Class of 2016-17 will be available next summer on the SNPA website and in the eBulletin.