Healing a Newsroom  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  The Beat
From AJR,   June 2003

Healing a Newsroom   

When the smoke cleared in Salt Lake, Nancy Conway was the Tribune's new editor.

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


MediaNews Group's Nancy Conway takes on the challenge of leading the newsroom at the Salt Lake Tribune following an ethical scandal and the ensuing resignation of Editor James E. Shelledy after 12 years in the job.

Conway, 61, says "the first order of business is healing" at the Tribune, where two staffers admitted to selling information about the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping case, some of it embellished, to the National Enquirer (see Free Press, page 10).

"That seems to be a pretty strong newsroom," Conway said before taking over on June 2. "While they've had some trauma and they're in some disarray, I think there are good people there. My style of leadership is inclusive, and I think they're looking for that."

Says Tribune owner and Publisher William Dean Singleton, who took control of the paper last year, "Jay was a very creative editor and did a very good job there. Had he not resigned he would still be there." He adds: "Jay was kind of a one-man leadership. He managed top-down. Nancy is more of a team builder."

Conway has spent the past eight years as executive editor for MediaNews' ANG newspapers in the San Francisco Bay Area, which include the Oakland Tribune.

She and Singleton first worked together 25 years ago in Massachusetts, when she was editor of the weekly Amherst Record and he the publisher. She later ran a group of weeklies for the South Florida Newspaper Network, and in 1990 Singleton hired her as editor and publisher of the York Dispatch and Sunday News in Pennsylvania. She finds Singleton so fascinating that she has started doing research for a book about him and his business partner, Richard Scudder.

A former medical technician who was a Peace Corps volunteer in Brazil, Conway turned to the newspaper business when she was a single parent trying to find a teaching job in a tight market. A year-and-a-half after starting out doing calendar listings at another weekly in Amherst, she became the paper's editor.

Editors at ANG have mixed opinions of her. "She's the best," says Terry Winckler, editor of the San Mateo County Times. "I got along well with her. Some people did not.... She's tough, she's not mean-spirited.... She likes dissent and works to bring out people who are reluctant and perhaps intimidated to speak."

A former ANG newsroom employee says Conway would run roughshod over people in editors' meetings. But this person also recalled Conway's "almost kind of motherly" concern for her employees, giving them extended leave or other benefits when serious illness or other misfortunes befell them.

The announcement of Conway's move came days after ANG said it was laying off 49 employees, 17 of them on the editorial side. "We did everything we could to avoid layoffs, but the reality is that a lot of our business has disappeared and it doesn't look like it's coming back," Conway says.

"One of the things that Dean is fond of saying," she adds, "is that you have to have a solid business model to put out a good newspaper. If it can't support itself, you can't have a news voice."

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