Wanda Lloyd, executive editor of the Montgomery Advertiser, wasn't always sure she would go into in journalism, not until a high school teacher noticed her leadership qualities and appointed her editor of the school paper.
Now, 42 years after she launched her journalism career, Lloyd is retiring following a journey that included stints at such top papers as the Miami Herald, the Washington Post and USA Today.
During her eight years at the helm in Montgomery, Lloyd, known as a champion of diversity, presided over the Gannett paper's transformation into a digital-first product.
"She's really set us up for success," says Kym Klass, a feature and enterprise reporter at the Advertiser. "She's done so much for us."
In addition to her busy journalism career, Lloyd has a long record of volunteering and taking part in school journalism programs. "She's very visible in the community," says Advertiser President and Publisher Sam Martin, who praises his editor for her work in shaping the news outlet's digital strategy.
When Nigel Duara, a young reporter who worked for Lloyd at the Advertiser, was being recruited by the Alabama paper, he saw how far Montgomery was from the University of Missouri, where he was in school. He was concerned. "But I looked at her résumé, and that comforted me a lot," says Duara, who is now an Associated Press reporter in Portland, Oregon. "She had these great newspapers in her credentials, but she also really did this nonprofit work. I said to my mom, 'Look at her résumé. I've got to do this.' "
Although she worked at the Washington Post at a time when key players from the "All the President's Men" era were there, her last eight years before retirement may have been her busiest, as she pushed a newspaper to adapt to the digital era.
"She's not tied to do it a certain way. She's very flexible," Martin says. "She's willing to make tough decisions..and understands that, in order to survive, you have to be able to be open-minded."
When Lloyd, now 63, was growing up in Savannah, Georgia, her mother wanted her to be a teacher. But after that high school teacher recognized her journalistic chops, Lloyd realized that she had found her calling.
She majored in English at Spelman College in Atlanta, and, while she had planned on being a reporter, she began her newspaper career after graduation as a copy editor at the Providence Evening Bulletin – the paper's first black copy editor.
Lloyd, passionate about civil rights, has done extensive work in the black community during her career. A member of the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Minority Media Executives, she has been awarded the Ida B. Wells and Robert G. McGruder awards for diversity in media. "Certainly in her hires, I think she looks for diversity, of color, yes, but thinking, experience and approach," Duara says.
One of her proudest accomplishment at the Advertiser was the paper's 2005 project on Rosa Parks and the 50th anniversary of the Montgomery bus boycott.
After working in Providence for two years, Lloyd received a call from now-defunct Knight Ridder, at the time one of the nation's best newspaper groups. The company wanted to hire her at one of its papers. "I'm a Southern girl," Lloyd says, "so I ask, 'What's the warmest?' and it was the Miami Herald. I applied and got the job."
In addition to working for the Herald, she began teaching as a volunteer in the local schools. She's been involved in education ever since, serving on the advisory boards of several journalism schools. She was also the founding executive director of the Freedom Forum Diversity Institute at Vanderbilt University, a national program that helps nontraditional students learn journalism. Her four years there, just before her arrival in Montgomery, marked the only years of her career that she wasn't in the newsroom.
Lloyd has done a lot of one-on-one counseling and mentoring with students at various schools and organizations. After news of her retirement became public in November, past students have called to thank her. "They said, 'You had faith in me when no one else did.' " Lloyd says.
"She always had an open door," Duara says. "She would always be able to give advice, and that was huge."
Klass says that Lloyd was a compassionate boss. "She wants you to succeed," Klass says, "I've had zero bad days with her."
The editor has had her hands full during her eight years in Montgomery, instituting a digital-first approach and as well as what she calls the "new Montgomery plan," shaped by a process in which the 55,000-ciruclation paper set out to define the "passion topics" of its audience.
"Instead of looking at demographics like 'women, ages 40-65,' we've looked at the things that people have in common," Martin says.
With help from parent Gannett, the paper conducted an online survey, brought in groups of people and sent out reporters to meet people at work or in their living rooms, all with the goal of finding out what people wanted to know about.
They came up with three distinct audiences – young professionals, families and what Lloyd called the "legacy" group – and tried to tailor their coverage accordingly.
"We have gone with what we call the local-local strategy," Lloyd says. "People are getting their national news from other places. People can't get local news anywhere but with us."
To help the paper move beyond its print-centric past, Lloyd brought in trainers from Gannett to help reporters upgrade their social media skills. Now, everyone has a twitter account and tweets regularly.
Reporters were also given iPhones and taught how to shoot and edit video. "Video and photo galleries drive the most Web site traffic," Lloyd says.
Here's how Lloyd describes the paper's shift in emphasis: In the past, "We would come in there to put out the best paper we could. Today, we come in and put out the best Web site we can. It's not about the paper until 3:30 in the afternoon. It's about the right tools and training..making good decisions. It's about the numbers and page views."
Lloyd is sad to be leaving but feels gratified by the positive comments spurred by the news of her retirement. Organizations that weren't open to her before because of conflict of interest complications are reaching out to her, and some have piqued her interest. "I am hearing from everybody, congratulating me for stepping away while I still have a lot of energy to do things for the community."
Lloyd, who is married and has a daughter, says she's not sure exactly what she'll do after she retires early next year. She says she'll continue to volunteer and might go after a part-time job.
Despite all of the ferment in journalism, Lloyd still believes that the fundamentals matter. Unlike many others of her generation, she doesn't feel threatened by the digital uprising. Her sole worry is that independent bloggers lack credibility and don't verify their information. "People in our community have to understand the difference between untrained and trained journalists," Lloyd says.
Earlier this month, the Montgomery Advertiser reported that seven school administrators were pressuring teachers to change students' grades. The story was based on more than 40 interviews and six months of reporting. Lloyd, who says her greatest joy is breaking news, loved it.
"The biggest issue," she says, "is making sure the content reflects the big issues in the community."
NOTE: Nigel Duara's was misspelled in an earlier version of this article.