AJR  Features
From AJR,   April 1995

New Titles for Newsrooms   

By Carl Sessions Stepp

Carl Sessions Stepp (cstepp@umd.edu) began writing for his hometown paper, the Marlboro Herald-Advocate in Bennettsville, South Carolina, in 1963, after his freshman year in high school. He studied journalism at the University of South Carolina, where he edited The Gamecock.

After college, he worked for the St. Petersburg Times and the Charlotte Observer before becoming the first national editor at USA Today in 1982. In 1983, he joined the University of Maryland journalism faculty full time.

In the ensuing 30 years, he also has served as senior editor and book reviewer for AJR, writing dozens of pieces. He has been a visiting writing and editing coach for news organizations in more than 30 states.


Some days, Marty Steffens feels like a plain old metro editor, not the News Manager of the Public Life Group of the Dayton Daily News.

But at other times, she believes that titles matter, that changing what people in newsrooms are called makes them rethink what they do.

"We now operate in a new way," says Steffens, whose title was executive metro editor until a newsroom reorganization a year ago. "You do act differently. You're much more sharing and collaborative."

At least Steffens had the basic metro editor model to start from. At the Detroit Free Press, Ann Olson, until just over a year ago the features editor, was given one of the most innovative titles around: associate editor for change.

What does that mean?

"People who work here want to know that sometimes," she jokes. Then she recites her job description.

"I am here to help us think of new ways to reach readers, new ways to think about what we put in the paper and new ways to think about how we put out the paper. I'm both content oriented and process oriented."

Okay. But what, exactly, does she do?

Everything from going to daily news meetings as a readers' advocate, to coordinating a new project for preteen readers, to conducting workshops on the language of writing, to helping news departments develop mission plans. Sometimes she even edits copy.

"I'm here to foster risk and innovation," Olson says. "It's the best job I ever had."

Whether all this title-switching makes any difference is debatable, but many newsrooms are doing it. Dayton has its news managers and topic editors. Norfolk's wire editor is now the Global Team leader. Tim McGuire of the Star Tribune in Minneapolis isn't just the editor, he's the editor/general manager of the reader customer unit. At the State in Columbia, South Carolina, section editors have been replaced with circle editors; there's no city editor or features editor.

"Terminology and jargon aren't going to make any difference," says retired editor Frank McCulloch, who has known many newsrooms. "It's a danger, when change becomes a fad."

But Tonnie Katz, editor of the Orange County Register, says title-shifting reduces turf consciousness. "You see a lot more willingness to adapt and be flexible," she says.

And Columbia's Gil Thelen offers a practical rationale: New titles underline management's commitment to change. Why is that important? Explains Thelen, "Never underestimate the power of the old culture to fight back."