Proud of what we made as I leave Digital First Media

Harry Foote, my first editor at my first newspaper job in Westbrook, Maine, pulled me aside after a particularly rough day in 1994. I’d missed or made mistakes on more than one story. I was 18 years old. He was approaching 80. He handed me a copy of the latest edition of  the paper, pointed to three or four things I’d written, and said, “You won’t remember what you missed this week. You’ll remember and be proud of what you made.”

I keep returning to that advice today, which will be my last as editor of the New Haven Register, Register Citizen, Middletown Press and other publications in Connecticut. I’m leaving Digital First Media after working for it and its predecessor companies for the past 11 years, or nearly 30 percent of my life. I’ve worked as a statewide and regional editor for DFM for the past three years, as a publisher the previous three, and as a corporate director of news before that.

I could write a book about the frustrations and lessons from the past three years of our attempts to rapidly shift from legacy print structure to digital first journalism business model under hedge fund ownership and in a corporate newspaper chain environment. I’m not sure anyone would want to read it.

So I’m taking Harry’s advice. In the past 11 years at Journal Register Company and Digital First Media, I’ve come to know hundreds of people who have dedicated their lives to journalism, who work long hours for low pay, and put up with all kinds of crap (including plenty from me!) year after year. Cynical exteriors aside, at the heart of it, they care about strangers and are in journalism to improve people’s lives.

When I consider what our team in Connecticut has done and been through in the past three years:

This group of journalists in Connecticut accomplished these things despite constant uncertainty and change in the industry and company, multiple rounds of staff reductions and a nonstop agenda of training on new tools.

And they did it during a period of tremendous personal loss for our team, in which we saw the passing of the beloved Ann DeMatteo, George Mihalakos, Neal Buker, Michael Bellmore and Bridget Albert.

Although I’ll be moving on to not-sure-what-comes-next (hey, know someone who wants to hire me?), I’ll be excited to see the next few years of accomplishments from DFM newsrooms across the country and our group in Connecticut in particular.

Connecticut’s newsrooms will have strong and compassionate leadership from Mark Brackenbury, promoted today to executive editor, fresh off receiving the Local Media Association Editor of the Year award last week in Philadelphia. Backing them up are an incredible group of leaders, reporters, photographers and designers who made all of the above and a lot more happen over the past few years.

Published by mattderienzo

Matt DeRienzo has worked in journalism for more than 25 years as a reporter, editor, publisher, director of news and journalism nonprofit executive director. As vice president of news at Hearst Connecticut, he led a newsroom of more than 175 people, instilling a culture of investigative reporting, and growing audience while launching a paid digital subscription model at six daily newspapers. While there, he oversaw a national investigation into sex abuse at Boys & Girls Clubs that was recently recognized with an Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE) national award, as well as the New England First Amendment Coalition’s Michael Donoghue Freedom of Information Award. As the first full-time executive director of LION, a nonprofit supporting local independent online news organizations across the country, he started with an annual budget of $30,000 and helped bring in more than $2 million over three years from funders including the Knight Foundation, Ford Foundation, Democracy Fund, Inasmuch Foundation (Ethics & Excellence in Journalism), and Facebook, while tripling the organization’s membership. As a publisher, he was an early leader in reader and community engagement, launching North America’s first “newsroom café,” which opened a Connecticut daily newspaper’s doors to the public, and which was recognized with the Associated Press Managing Editors’ Innovator of the Year Award. As editor of the New Haven Register, he led a team of more than 100 journalists borrowed from around the country and on his own staff in covering the mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School and its aftermath. During his tenure in New Haven, the Register also received the Robert C. McGruder Award for Leadership in Newsroom Diversity from the American Society of Newspaper Editors. Most recently, he has done consulting work for Local Media Association on fundraising from foundations and individual giving in support of local news organizations. He co-managed the Facebook Journalism Project’s recent COVID-19 Relief grant program, which received more than 2,000 applications and is part of $25 million in funding Facebook has earmarked to help local news organizations through this crisis. He was a Sulzberger fellow at Columbia University in 2018, and has taught reporting, editing and multimedia journalism as an adjunct professor at the University of New Haven and Quinnipiac University. His column about the journalism industry has appeared in Editor & Publisher magazine since January 2016. He is a full-time single dad of two who has been active in Northwest Connecticut as a board member of the Susan B. Anthony Project, a domestic and sexual violence support and advocacy, and previously as a longtime United Way board member and two-time annual fund chairman.

7 thoughts on “Proud of what we made as I leave Digital First Media

  1. You will be sorely missed. Much luck in your future endeavors. You were a voice of reason in times of much strife and pain here in Connecticut. Thank you.

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