Applied Research  | American Journalism Review
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From AJR,   November 2001

Applied Research   

Newspaper consultant and researcher Sharon Peters returns to the newsroom as editor of the Gazette in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

By Kathryn S. Wenner
Kathryn S. Wenner, a former AJR associate editor, is a copy editor at the Washington Post.     


Colorado-based newspaper consultant Sharon Peters gets a chance to put seven years' worth of newsroom research to use without giving up life in her adopted home state. As editor of the Gazette in Colorado Springs, Peters replaces Terri Fleming, who resigned in July.

A former managing editor of Kentucky's Lexington Herald-Leader, Peters, 52, says she got a hankering to return to the newsroom in recent months and crafted a very specific description of the perfect job: editing a small to midsize paper with a strong staff that's "poised to improve," working for "a publisher with a solid commitment to most of the things I believe in." In a word, she says, "It didn't look very promising."

But the day after she convinced an initially doubtful and well-connected friend in the business that she was serious, Peters got a call from Gazette Publisher Thomas J. Mullen. "From the first time that I met him, I knew that it was kind of an ideal situation," she says. "I understand [Colorado]. I love it. The staff has certainly proven itself. It just sort of happened."

When she left the Herald-Leader, her last newspaper job, in 1994, she'd finished a Ph.D. in organization development and wanted to practice what she'd learned. As a consultant, she has worked for major newspapers and newspaper companies. And as an adjunct faculty member at Northwestern University's Media Management Center, she conducted a number of research projects.

"I think it was really important to me to extract from daily journalism," Peters says. Because she knew the business but was no longer in it, the managers, reporters and designers she talked to "could be really honest with me. They were not putting themselves in jeopardy." They told her things "that were a little disturbing, a little distressing, that were really heartfelt," Peters says.

As a result, "many of the notions I had always had about what editors do and ought to do--particularly at small and midsize papers--have been replaced," Peters writes in an e-mail to AJR. She believes people in newsrooms want more engagement with and direction from their editors, "along with lots more mentoring and coaching. I hope I can pull that off."

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