USA Today gets new editor in chief

Gannett Chief Content Officer Joanne Lipman has been named the editor in chief of USA Today, the company announced Monday, making her the first woman to permanently hold that title at the McLean, Virginia-based news organization.

Lipman’s official ascension to the role, effective immediately, comes nine months after Dave Callaway left for The Street. Patty Michalski, who worked as interim editor of USA Today in the meantime, has been named executive director for digital at USA Today and senior director for digital audience development for the USA Today Network.

Lipman’s role atop USA Today promises greater coordination between Gannett’s flagship national outlet and its constellation of 109 metro and local news organizations throughout the country. Since she joined Gannett in late 2015, her primary charge has been to unify these diverse and disparate properties into a more unified national organization, branded as the USA Today Network. The strategy allows the corporate parent to cut costs by centralizing production facilities, while requiring local news outlets to pool reporting resources and collaborate across coverage areas on enterprise reporting.

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“That means we go from these individual siloed newsrooms, each one of which is individually resource-constrained, to a newsroom of now well over 3,000 journalists,” Lipman told me in a recent interview. “My role was to really make the network act like a network.”

The geographic reach of that network allows it to coordinate breaking news coverage among properties and combine newsroom resources to cover issues with a wide geographic reach. Last year, for example, dozens of USA Today Network outposts investigated lead in their respective communities’ drinking water, culminating in a series that appeared in both USA Today and across numerous local newspapers.

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The effort to connect that network has taken on an even greater urgency following Gannett’s failed takeover bid last year of tronc—formerly Tribune Publishing—which would have added a handful of prestigious, major-market newspapers to its portfolio of mostly local dailies. In the 11 months since that attempt was made public last April, Gannett’s stock price has tumbled by more than 50 percent.

Correction: An earlier version of this story suggested that Lipman was the first woman to head USA Today. She’s the first to hold the title of editor in chief. 

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David Uberti is a CJR staff writer and senior Delacorte fellow. Follow him on Twitter @DavidUberti.