Watching History

USA TODAY is currently undergoing a major transition. The McPaper announced David Callaway as its new editor-in-chief on July 10, and Larry Kramer was hired as president publisher just a few weeks ago. Those are the two top positions of one of the country’s biggest newspaper.

As interns, we got to see that relationship play out with staff and got the opportunity to sit down with both two founders of MarketWatch and captains of a national newspaper in a private meeting.

Shortly after Politico scooped the fact that Dave, the editor-in-chief of MarketWatch since 2003, was coming in as EIC of USA TODAY, I was alerted to the fact that there was going to be a town hall at USA TODAY HQ in McLean, Va. with Dave and Larry to discuss the future of USA TODAY and calm any uncertainties the staff had. Luckily, it was right downstairs.

The conference room was packed. Frankly, we were all wondering how we were going to be a paper the next day with many top editors and hundreds of journalists listening for a solid hour to Dave talking about his past experience and his plans for the future.

Not everything was hunky-dory. There was some clear tension in the room, as many people there had watched some of their closest colleagues and friends pack up their desks and leave the Gannett building for the last time over the last few months. The newsroom looks pretty full most of the time, and it seems like most of the desks are filled with someone at least part of the time. But there are still a lot of empty desks, too, especially in the upper floors, and its clear that those cubicles used to be home to a great journalist that had to be let go because of the economics time that journalism is fighting.

Larry was having none of that depressed nostalgia. He flat out told the assembled that he was looking to the future, not the past, and it seemed most of us there agreed with a tepid applause.

When Larry met with the interns on July 11, he told us that he is excited for the future, and he wants the paper to “reinvent storytelling,” like USA TODAY did back when it was first founded. Hiring Dave seems to signal more of an emphasis on the digital, a field that USA TODAY has been lacking in in the past, and it’s good to see that the company is looking to expand off of of the printed page (I got a sneak peek at some of those innovations, and I’m truly excited for what the future has to offer to USA TODAY readers on the web).

But that leaves some worried about the future of the paper version of McPaper, including myself. I’m a romantic, no doubt about it. I love the feeling of holidng a newspaper in my hands and scanning the headlines. Larry even said that the paper brings in a lot of advertisers, especially Sunday editions, and the power of A1 is nothing to scoff at. It’s a powerful, albeit expensive tool for journalists. The paper edition of USA TODAY won’t dissapear tomorrow, but it’s going to change.

That’s the nature of the business I’ve chosen. Journalism is all about adapting to the times. Most of us don’t know what we’re going to do when we come to work that day. At least, I don’t. Sure, some of the same meetings and procedures will come and go. But the people we deal with and the content we cover is constantly moving, and the medium is changing even faster. It’s exciting yet frightening.

As an intern, there’s something remarkable in seeing that change happen right before your eyes. USA TODAY, and journalism as a whole, is at a turning point in many ways, and I’ll be able to look back years from now and say I saw the changes as they happened. I saw Dave walking through the newsroom, introducing himself to every staffer. I saw USA TODAY taking pictures of Dave while he sat in on a morning meeting with other top editors. I saw journalists ask with dignity the questions about the future of employment of USA TODAY’s hard-working, passionate journalists. And I saw Larry spend an hour with myself and fellow interns, answering questions about the future of journalism with poise and optimism that honestly reassuring as Dave looked on.

I became a journalist to watch history unfold. I never knew I’d be a part of it.