By Devan Filchak| Ball State University
"Critical to my career has been having mentors, people both within the newsrooms where I've worked and in other parts of the news industry, were there to support me and to help direct me," Simmons said.
Q&A with APME incoming President Debra Adams Simmons
Debra Adams Simmons joined The Plain Dealer in Cleveland as managing editor in 2007. She was named editor in 2010. Previously, she worked as the editor and vice president of news at the Akron Beacon Journal for four years. Other stops included the Detroit Free Press and The Virginian-Pilot.
Simmons earned her bachelor of arts degree from Syracuse University. She says networking and mentors have been keys to her success.
Q: What drew you to journalism?
A: Really wanting to make a difference in the world is what drove me to this profession. My original plan after college was that I was going to take a year off to travel the world and go to law school. During that year, I was offered … a nine-month internship at the local paper in Syracuse, N.Y. I was going to do that nine-month postgraduate internship and then I was going to go to Africa and Europe. And then I was going to start school in September. Two weeks into my post-graduate internship, I was offered a full time permanent job. That was in 1986 and I'm still in the industry, all of these years later.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges facing APME this coming year?
A: I think APME has a unique opportunity this year to innovate and collaborate. As you know, the industry is changing dramatically and APME is an organization of leaders who are trying to lead through a period of dynamic change. I think anything that we can do that helps our members develop tools to be successful as we navigate changes would be a key calling for us. Certainly, we are celebrating APME's 80th anniversary. APME was founded 80 years ago in French Lick, Ind. And I think it is important to celebrate the past 80 years and the work that has come before us, as well as to plot of course for the future.
Q: What do you believe is in the future of print?
A: Based on the readers that I hear from every day, I think print will continue to have a future. I don't think print is going away tomorrow. There are many people who continue to like words on paper. I would also say though, based on the feedback I have received as we've gone through substantial change here in Cleveland, the response is generational. Many of the readers of our content under 40 really prefer digital content. Many of those people say, 'I never pick up a paper. I read the e-edition of the paper. I read your website, but I'm not a paper person." The 40- to 70-year-old age group knows digital is where the future is moving. They don't love it, but they have kind of resigned to the fact that this is the direction we are moving in. The 70 and over crowd is angry. They want print; they want it every day, and they want it to be the way it used to be. The challenge for newspaper editors is figuring out how to navigate all of the ways our audience likes to access our information. Print continues to be a huge part of that. For most news organizations, print revenue continues to pay the bills, even as their digital audiences are expanding exponentially. So we're going to have to figure out how to do it all. But print is still alive and well and making a huge difference in communities across America.
Q: How would you describe the importance of social media in today's media environment?
A: I think social media is critical in today's media environment. When I think about some of the biggest stories covered in my community in the past couple of years, social media was in the center both in terms of newsgathering and news dissemination. Engagement is key to the work that we do. We need new sources talking to us, so social media is a great way to access people and information. And we need to spread information on as many platforms as we can. Social media enables us to do both of those things better than we have ever been able to before. For years, our work was a one-way conversation with our audience. Social media has opened up tremendous opportunities to have a two-way conversation or a multiple way conversation with the audience.
Q: What do you believe the future of pay walls will be?
A: I think that the future of pay walls is undecided. Clearly, there are two schools of thought. One is that people should pay to access information, but we also know that young people believe that information should be free. At least in my organization, there's a hesitancy to cut information off from significant numbers of audience members who want to engage with that information. I think there is a lot of experimentation right now, and experimentation is critical for our industry. I think we will assess the results of those experiments before a decision is made about what the future of pay walls will be. I don't think we are absolutely moving toward pay walls or we're absolutely not. Several news organizations have dipped their toe in. Some have had tremendous success; others have backed away. I think pay walls are one of many experiments happening in the news industry. The verdict is still out on what the ultimate outcome will be.