4 Leadership Lessons Learned from my Son on Angel’s Landing

Our destination, Angel's Landing in Zion National Park
Our destination, Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park

For the past several years, I have taken my boys on road trips throughout the United States to experience hiking in national parks, swimming in the oceans and cheering on my beloved Irish (Notre Dame Football.) We have been fortunate enough to visit both coasts, the Southwest, New York, Las Vegas, Chicago, Dallas, San Diego, Orlando, Myrtle Beach, the Rockies, the Appalachians, and have had countless #selfies near so many famous (and not so famous) sights. 🙂 The time we have spent together during these adventures have been the most precious moments in my life.

While I would like to say it has all been done selflessly and in the spirit of fun, I have planned these trips with some specific goals in mind. I want to provide my boys with experiences and knowledge that will help them in their careers and lives as men. And of course I wanted to be the one to furnish them with the knowledge and memories. I love being a dad, and I feel I can impart values and skills that just cannot be gained via traditional means.

Jack and Evan taking in the view on our ascent up to Angel's Landing in Zion National Park. -June 17, 2014
Jack and Evan taking in the view on our ascent up to Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park. -June 17, 2014

We all have egos and I am no exception. On this particular adventure up the side of a canyon with my son Evan, I learned more about myself and leadership than any book, personality profile, or coach could ever possibly provide. And I learned it not from my intellect, expertise and skills. It was from the courage and council of a 14 year old boy.


Since 2004, six people have died falling from the cliffs on this route. (Don't feed the squirrels either)
Since 2004, six people have died falling from the cliffs on this route. (Don’t feed the squirrels either)

Angel’s Landing is a two and a half mile trek to the top of a 1488 foot tall rock formation, providing outstanding views of Zion Canyon in Utah. It is not for the feint of heart.

I really do not have any phobias (except spiders, small spaces, germs, and masked psychos with butcher knives) but heights sometimes gives me a sense of vertigo. I remember my dad tying me to the chimney of my childhood two story house so I could clean the gutters, but I digress…

After a two-mile trek and quarter mile ascent with breathtaking views, you reach this sign that reads “Since 2004, six people have died falling from the cliffs on this route.”

All that is between you and a 1400+ foot fall is a death grip on a chain that the park nicely pounded into the rock decades ago.

My heart was racing. Not from the climb thus far but the adrenaline pumping through my veins after reading the sign. Doubt and excuses crept into my mind in the form of rationalizations:

What if I fall? If I fall, will the boys know what to do? OMG, what if the boys fall? What will their mother think? Could she call Child Protective Services and have them taken away? What if we get up there and cannot get down? The wind is really gusting today… maybe we should try another time. What if we get injured and cannot get back down? We have already come far enough… the view is amazing from RIGHT HERE.

Are those chains really gonna support my weight? Ugh!

It was at this point Jack decided he was not going to continue up to the landing. I was so relieved.  My rationalizations were confirmed. I would not have to face the fear of heights that lay before me, child protective services, or more importantly, voice the fact that I was terrified. Whew.

So with a smile on my heart, feeling confident and relieved, I turn to Evan and say, “Well? What do you think? Should we head back down?”

Evan took a drink from his new Camelback water sleeve, looked up at the chains stretching out in front of him and said, “We have come this far, let’s see what is over the next set of rocks ahead. Think that would be okay, Dad?”

Confidence and Positivity

Evan had just put me into a place I did not expect. These events and life teaching moments are supposed to proceed according to my plan. The rationalizations and problem-solving processes immediately sprung into action in my mind:

I mean, I could not just leave Jack here at the trailhead. That would not be responsible. And, I am the Dad after all. Isn’t his safety more important? Kids do just do not understand. They are naturally fearless because they do not have experience. Untouchable. Darn teenagers. I can still work this out…

I turned to Jack and said, “Evan wants to continue. Are you sure you do not want to go with us? How would that make you feel? Perhaps we should try another time?”

Jack looked at me straight in the eye and said, “I have Chex mix. I’ll sit on this rock and wait. Have fun.”

So much for the lifeline. I was faced with a decision. A decision that could be rationalized from either side. I am still processing the thoughts and motivations that occurred in that moment, but I am almost certain that a combination of ‘saving face’ and not wanting to disappoint Evan combined. We waved at Jack and grabbed onto the chains…

One can lead from the back too…

Dad instinct fired:

Always hang on to the chains. Watch your footing. I am here, you can always grab my hand for a lift. Never look down. One step at a time. For God’s sake be careful. That rock is slippery, take this path instead. Take your time.

LOL. That advice was more for me than him. Evan was smiling. He made jokes. He took his time and stopped and looked out at the canyons all around us. He pointed out wildlife, colors, and commented on the wind, the day, the experience.

IMG_2613Never once did he take my hand. He nodded at all of my badgering and commands. He kept smiling and kept reassuring me he was fine.

He was grateful. He thanked me for the hiking boots we had purchased the week before and told me how they made the climb easier. He was relaxed and comfortable. He was in the moment. His confidence and quiet reassurance gave me strength. He was leading me.

I am kicking myself and am ashamed now, because at every turn I put doubt into his mind. I always gave him the option to turn back. I made it easy for him to quit, to fail. I put my own fears above his experience. Where was my training from the book Good to Great? Personal humility? Selflessness? I had taken a once in a lifetime experience and reduced it to anxiety, fear and a task to look good in front of my son. What was I thinking?


After 40 minutes holding on to the chains, negotiating the top of sheer cliff faces and enduring the endless worries I vocalized, we reached the top. I watched Evan make the final steps and had such a rush of emotion: pride, accomplishment, exhilaration and shame.

He had led me to the top.

View from Angel’s Landing, Zion National Park

On all fours, we gazed at the majesty around us. It was indeed a landing for angels. We looked at each other and could not stop smiling. We sat up top and felt the gusts of wind blow through our hair. We gazed down on from where we had come and tried to pick out where Jack must be sitting.

We reflected on the climb and some of the dangerous parts. He let me know that he was scared at some points, but was focused on making it to the top. He had never once let that show during our assent.

We shared many moments in silence, just sitting next to each other enjoying the view and relishing the journey we had shared.

And then Evan hugged and thanked me. I guess he did not think I had failed him. I still tear up thinking about that moment. I remember thinking that Evan was not any longer a boy, but a man.

Selfie on Angel's Landing! Woohoo!
Selfie on Angel’s Landing! Woohoo!

My soul renewed, and fresh insights about myself to ponder and explore, all that was left to do was take a #selfie and begin our descent.

His actions and traits on that day: courage, confidence and positivity, inspires me still today. Evan helped me overcome the negative speak that haunts all of us, and I look forward to another experience when I can follow him.



4 Things Media Can Learn from the Disruptors on Culture.

Culture Matters.

IKR? We have all heard it so many times. But experiencing the energy in many of the innovative companies we visited on this year’s trip (2014 Local Media Association’s Innovation Mission) was overwhelming. LinkedIn. Google. Buzzfeed. Simulmedia. Automattic. There was buzz. Smiles. Fun and creativity. Trust. Collaboration. Real-time communication whether in-person or via Skype/Hangouts. You could feel the electricity in the air. Yet, the staff was highly engaged and working. The Executive Suite and HR were not running the show by pushing out orders via the chain of command.


1. Space and Environment

This cannot be understated. The difference in staff morale and energy was very clear when compared to a traditional media company full of cubicles, sterile walls and stuck in old, dusty buildings with a thousand offices.

Wall cling at BuzzFeed

Start here:  Trash the cubes. Create open spaces with collaborative areas. Have play areas (many companies had video games, ping-pong tables and more) and powerful messages on the wall. Let teams group together and name themselves. People should face each other. Let staff personalize their space. These are helpful in attracting and retaining talent, and create a playful, creative environment necessary for problem-solving and dealing with the stress of a highly competitive marketplace.

 2. Benefits

Refreshment station at Automattic

This is an easy one. Provide benefits beyond the employee handbook. Be flexible. Examples include paid creative time, days off, ‘hack’ time, remote access, childcare, dry cleaning services and other perks. Budgets are tight, and media companies may not see the immediate ROI on such expenditures. But the reality is, the the number one asset any company has is its people. Treat them as you would your children.

Food and drink is prominent. Drink stations filled with coffee, juice, soda, energy drinks and more were available at multiple locations. Alcohol was also a common choice. Some included free food in cafeterias. We were able to eat at LinkedIn’s cafeteria which rivaled any buffet I have ever visited.

3. Leadership

Believe. Money and prestige are not the primary focus of any of the leaders we encountered. Their work is a calling and fulfills a personal mission much greater than a quarterly result for shareholders. The real cultural hook comes from leadership.

“Being around people you love, and those that love you, is very powerful.”

Allen Blue, Co-founder of LinkedIn, took the time to meet with us during our visit. It was a powerful discussion. He spent almost an hour talking about the company, its history, culture and future. He was sincere and deeply passionate. A very moving experience that will always be with me.

“Leadership is hard work and it is lonely”, said Eric Bright, VP E-Commerce at Deseret Digital, “CEO’s from companies like LinkedIn and Automattic are not interested in just building a business; they are also here to improve the world.”

4. Trust and Investing in Staff

Invest in people. Leaders with which we spoke referred time and time again to employee development, 360 feedback, fostering creativity, embracing mistakes, learning and providing clear expectations. One such conversation likened the relationship with an employee as a “Tour of Duty.” The staff needs to re-up during the 360 process. It is a choice.

When looking for the right talent, one leader said “Successful candidates must have a willingness to be critical of themselves. They must be willing to change their minds and be devoted to the things they are working on as bigger than all of us.”

“We can work remotely. We are trusted to do great work and we provide great results. It is all about the right mix of people and culture.”

Culture and leadership is about people, not systems and buildings. Love, trust and support them. Remove the obstacles and let them run.


5 Powerful Takeaways from #NYC #IMAIM 2014

Three pillars of content @BuzzFeed

It has been a whirlwind trip thus far in #NYC for the 2014 Local Media Association Innovation Mission (#LMAIM.) I am writing this as I sit on a plane headed to San Francisco for the second half of our trip so I will provide additional insights from #SFO in a later post.

Face to face meetings we have had so far include The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Simulmedia, Gatehouse Media, RegionalHelpWanted.com, BuzzFeed, Russmedia and CBS Local Media.

1.  Native is front and center. 

Regardless of the controversy this new ad unit has created, all of the media companies we visited in NYC have some sort of strategy for providing native content. Advertising revenue is shifting, and focus on advertiser ROI is rapidly becoming more important as metrics and engagement continue to dominate headlines in the advertising world. BuzzFeed is clearly a front-runner in the native ad space: “We are the newsroom for our brand partners. We are helping them react to events that make sense to their brand.”  – Matt Trotta, BuzzFeed passionately conveyed during our meeting. “We do not monetize content. Rather we take the data and insights to help the brands.”

But other companies are moving into native with the same zest and vigor. The New York Times has been experimenting with native for some time now. They believe that the “agency world is not yet well equipped to deal with quality native creation.” This gives them a way to clearly differentiate. All of their native content is placed on a subdomain of their website: paidpost.nytimes.com. There is not a landing page, nor is the content available directly via navigation. But the rules of engagement are clear, from labeling, creation, price and down to how many times the content will show up in the newsfeed. It gets SEO lift and based on the Geico sponsored travel quiz I demoed on their site this morning, it appears brands are ready to get involved and support this with their pocketbooks.

Gatehouse and others also have clear plans to develop and sell native. Some strategies involve taking the advertisers content, others are about creating the content as a service. Content quality was also an important topic and resources are being devoted to ensure that this is not viewed as an advertorial play. Concentrating on verticals seems to be a common theme that is yielding good ROI for all parties in the transaction (consumer, brand, media company.)

Native is not a fad. Time to get on board and develop those products in your local market.

2. Innovation does not just equal digital. 

So much investment and focus is on digital and new technology, but we heard from several companies that are “doubling-down” on traditional media. “There is a risk in too quickly diminishing the value of print,” said Kirk Davis, CEO of Gatehouse Media. “Local is a very, very big space.”

Initiatives coming out of GateHouse Media’s new Print and Design Center in Austin, Texas.

Indeed, Gatehouse seems to be putting a great deal of financial backing into traditional media. From the investment in a new Print and Design Center in Austin, funding of surveys for data, and a billion dollars to purchase print and directories businesses, this company is actively working to innovate the core products, rather than throw them out with the bathwater. “Innovation is challenging, ” said Davis, “I do not want to let go of the great business we have now nor do I want to accelerate its demise. Print is valuable.”

CBS Local is also working hard to integrate its radio and digital products and leverage the traditional brand. “It is important to push the core (news) but we also need to provide what consumers want. We have to take content and put it wherever the consumers are,” said Ezra Kucharz, President CBS Local Digital Media, “How do I get a fan arguing with an expert?”

Strategy Presentation of the CBS Local Assets during the 2014 LMA Innovation Mission

And CBS is doing just that. Great examples includes new video content like the Tailgate Fan or music documentaries on Radio.com. “Take radio and turn it into video,” Kucharz said.

CBS has a very clear focus on profitability and ways to leverage content online. “Social media is the pipes of the internet. It moves people around. We want the traffic on our brand sites not Facebook.”

3. Journalism needs more than display ads to survive.

Probably the most ‘real’ or honest discussion we had came from Kirk Davis again: “There are difficult questions I am asked by our employees when I visit different markets like ‘When am I going to get a raise?’ Well, we are witnessing the liquidation of the newspaper business. In the future, Propel Marketing is going to fund journalism for our company.”

News has been subsidized for years by advertising. Classified verticals are probably the most noteworthy in newspaper’s past, generating profit margins into the 45%+ range. Those high profit margins attracted competitors, who picked apart the revenue hold newspapers enjoyed for 50 years. GateHouse’s Kirk Davis believes that digital services provided by Propel Marketing should eventually fund journalism. Gerold Riedmann, CEO of Russmedia said “Professional journalism can not be financed only by advertising. Something has to change.”

This begs a larger discussion outside of the scope of this blog, but one we as an industry need to address. If journalism  is not sustainable in its current form, what is it’s future? And in the case of GateHouse or other brands, is it fair to the shareholders to invest in this [now] loss-leader called journalism because we always have? It is easy for me to start thumping my chest and link the ideals of ‘the press’ to democracy and the constitution. But is it reasonable to expect a business to provide a service with no return? More on this at a later date…

4. Partnering is key to competing locally. 

Eric Straus provided the group an entrepreneur’s viewpoint. Founder and owner of RegionalHelpWanted.com (for the 2nd time), he provided valuable insight regarding running a business: “We need to get into bed together,” said Straus, “Let’s make a strong local brand primary over the national players.”

His logic is simple, and the success of his business shows that it works. In the markets he operates, local businesses and ‘jobseekers’ turn to regionalhelpwanted first. Rather than have all the local media players compete against each other in a market and have the national brand swoop in and take or continue to enjoy share, instead create a strong single presence that is #1 in that category. A great example of leveraging the strong brand power of traditional media into a vertical that was assumed lost by the local media industry.

5. Disrupt yourself before you are disrupted by a competitor. 

The Russmedia Formula: Geographical + Vertical = Multi-Niche

“You should jeopardize the newspaper. Would you want someone else to do it?” said Gerold Riedmann, CEO of Russmedia. “We do not integrate print and digital, and are actively trying to lure money away from print.”

Riedmann referenced disruptive innovation theories developed by Clayton Christensen and disruption in the newspaper industry by Clark Gilbert, President and CEO of the Deseret News and Deseret Digital Media. Utilizing the concepts illustrated, Russmedia developed a strategy that leverages the strengths of each media type separately. Russmedia believes:

1. Mobile traffic will exceed desktop traffic in Austria this year. Mobile is our focus.

2. There will be even greater specialization and fragmentation by digital portals.

3. Geography is becoming less and less important.

4. Keep things separate. Integration never works

5. There is not just one transformation inside the company occurring, but several.

Riedmann has dedicated sales resources for each product. No integrated reps. “We can get way more out of the market by going to the business 7x with separate sales representatives rather than just a single integrated sales person.”

When talking about digital products, his beliefs become even more clear: “I don’t want to explain to a local business what a CPM is. We sell  like a radio station would: we keep it easy and leverage the power of the brand. Targeting keeps CPMs high.”

Citizen Forum App created by Russmedia. See.Click. Fix.

Russmedia believes that that the way to create value is to ‘dig deeper than Google ever could.’ They create news for the ‘heads down’ generation. It is short, made for mobile, highly share-able (and via WhatsApp), and is highly consumable during periods of ‘short boredom’. But news is just one job to be done. New product development revolves around making life easier for people. So whether it is traffic, weather, gas prices or reviews of restaurants, Riedmann is focusing separate resources to continually disrupt his print hold in the market.

Some final food for thought from the innovators we visited:

“We have been raising prices like crazy, and the market supports it. Print is still very profitable, just less readers.” -Gerold Riedmann

“We don’t want one-truck Bob.” -Ezra Kucharz, CBSLocal Digital

“You can hit an audience of 3 people and expand it infinitely with the power of the social web.” – Jonathon Perelman, Buzzfeed

“Our relationship with Google is passable. They are the gorilla. They are awfully damn big.” -WSJ




2014 Elkhart Truth 11th Annual Awards Banquet Recap

Invitation to the 2014 Elkhart Truth Awards Banquet
Invitation to the 2014 Elkhart Truth Awards Banquet

Each year, we take time to recognize the hard work of our talented staff here at The Elkhart Truth. What follows is a recap of a fabulous evening at The Lerner Ballroom in downtown Elkhart, Ind on Thursday, March 13th, 2014.

We serve dinner after an hour of cocktails and mingling. The food was fantastic. I had salmon with the most wonderful glaze. We were fortunate to have a wonderful MC, our own managing editor, Marshall King. He started with a joke and a selfie reenactment inspired by Ellen.

Marshall King, recreating a pop-culture event made popular by Ellen the week prior.
Marshall King, recreating a pop-culture event made popular by Ellen the week prior.

Marshall then introduced Truth TV, a video created in-house every year that has become feared by some, but loved by many.

The video stars the talented employees of The Elkhart Truth, and contains various parodies of popular TV shows, movies, music videos, viral media and commercials. This year’s edition included:

  • Stills of our staff mimicking the actors in Duck Dynasty, Mad Men, Real Housewives and the The Hunger Games
  • “Truth Honors” –  Several parodies of the Sprint TV Commercial with James Earl Jones and Malcolm McDowell from late 2013
  • “Priceless” – A parody of the popular MasterCard commercials from the mid 2000’s
  • Lip syncing to “What Does the Fox Say”, “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “What Makes you Beautiful”
  • A parody of  “LIVE with Kelly and Michael”
  • A “Top Ten” list done in the style of Dave Letterman, poking fun at the pain we have gone through recently installing a new content management system named Libercus.

After the video, Greg Halling, editor, took the stage. Here are a few things he said:

“I was talking to someone in the industry — I need to be a bit circumspect here — and he told me that the leaders of a major newspaper in the upper Midwest were frustrated because they were looking for a hybrid CMS.”

“They want a content management system that starts with print content and repurposes it for digital.”

“I was stunned. Here at The Elkhart Truth, we grasp a basic truth about journalism, business and community that the Chicago Sun Times fails to understand — there is no such thing as a hybrid. There is only journalism in the service of those who need you.”

“Everything else flows from that.”

“If you understand your community, if you connect with it and care desperately about its welfare, you cover it with a sense of urgency.”

“You deliver news as quickly and effectively as you can, in as many forms as possible. Then you develop new products and business models to support that mission.”

“Essentially, you do what we have done over the last year.”

Greg went on to recognize all departments of our organization, having them stand, and thanking them for their contributions to our mission.

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Brandon Erlacher, publisher (me) then took the stage. Here is what was said:

“Now, let’s take a look into the story telling of the past year.”

“We have tried to break into video for almost 8 years now. At one point, we created daily video updates akin to what one would see on the evening news on TV. Bill Beck had a fantastic wardrobe, and I think he even wore make-up daily.”

“But we have evolved. We have learned. The videos we produce now provide depth and insight into the stories impacting our community. It just is not a roundup of the latest headlines. There is no talking head. It is about the content and the connection to the viewer. We need to be proud… journalists have always done this correctly, especially those that are part of The Elkhart Truth family, and they put the spotlight on what is important, not themselves.”

“So please take a moment to watch these pieces we produced. Our community has watched, engaged and shared them too.”

These four videos were then played for the crowd:

I then continued, “We also tell stories through photos. Here is a tribute to our talented staff relating the stories of our community through pictures and video…”

We then cued this powerful video highlighting our visual work as journalists in the Elkhart community:

The three videos featured in the above “Home” video are:

I then had a few more words to say, and our gracious Marshall was more infatuated with the cupcakes than what I was saying…

Cupcakes or a speech? Marshall's FB post during the banquet.
Cupcakes or a speech? Marshall’s FB post during the banquet.

I finished with the following:

“Damn it, we have been publishing for 125 years! Remember those videos we just watched. Who will document life? Google? WSBT? Fox28? Who will be the independent voice for those who have none? Who will hold government accountable? Who will champion a great life here in Elkhart County? I need you all.”

“I have never felt more excited about our future and the amazing people we have with passion, ideas, intelligence and endless energy. Our path to success is in your hands. Every one of us must continue taking steps forward and enlighten not only ourselves, but also our community with the enormous opportunities that are ahead.”

“Thank you all for your dedication to our great mission and company. I am honored and proud to work with each and every one of you.”

Next came the awards portion of the program. We present seven company awards every year. This year, a special one time eighth award was added labeled “Above and Beyond.”

Following, you will see a description of each award, the nominees for the award, and the introduction of each award recipient.

Above and Beyond (special award for 2014):

Becky Fain- Winner of the 2014 Above and Beyond Award
Becky Fain- Winner of the 2014 Above and Beyond Award

“This is a special award. One that is not given every year. The recipient this year has deserved it every year they have been employed. She has always been kind and helpful. No is not in her vocabulary. She is one of those people that is always busy, always approached by others for help, and yet she always finds a way to succeed. Some of her additional traits are:

  • a calm and positive attitude even through difficult times
  • a determination to get things done accurately and on time
  • always willing to assist where needed and take on new responsibilities
  • often stepping in to work with customers when the primary contact is unavailable
  • taking the lead in long range planning and scheduling
  • a go to source of information for practically every element of our business
  • assumed the duties of other positions during a year of extensive volatility”

“During the past year, she emerged as not only our safety net, but as a leader, trainer and inspirer.”

“It gives me great pleasure to present this special Above and Beyond Award to Becky Fain!”

Customer Service Award:

Mishanna Cramer- winner of the 2014 Customer Service Award
Mishanna Cramer- winner of the 2014 Customer Service Award

The winner of this award makes serving others a first priority and practices the golden rule.  This is a person that consistently sets high standards and lives by them.  This person will do whatever it takes to help the other members of the team and is a positive influence.

Nominees-  Mishanna Cramer, Joe Kuharic, Carol Reid

“This year’s customer service award winner demonstrated leadership and consistency during a very difficult year of change.”

“She continually identified areas of need and stepped up to make things happen. She is extremely competitive and makes the extra effort, whatever it takes to meet goal. She is fiercely dedicated to customer results and return on investment, and will stop at nothing to make sure obstacles are removed for success. She mentors her team members to develop and instills in them the same work ethic necessary to achieve outstanding results.  This year’s Customer Service award goes to – Mishanna Cramer.”

Leading Change Award:

The winner of this award develops a vision, communicates, establishes a sense of urgency, and empowers employees to achieve a change in major process in culture.  He or she builds on short term wins to provide a foundation for a permanent organizational change.

Nominees-  Anne Christnovich, Lydia Sheaks, Natasha Tucker

Anne Christnovich, winner of the 2014 Leading Change Award
Anne Christnovich, winner of the 2014 Leading Change Award

“To effectively lead change requires more than simply doing things differently on an individual level. It requires scrapping the old systems entirely so you can approach your job — and your mission — in an entirely new way. Even more important than that? It requires working across disciplines and across departments to help others change just as quickly.”

“This newsroom staffer does all of that. She collaborated with the advertising department to build new engagement opportunities on elkharttruth dot com. She worked with other newsroom staffers to use new forms of storytelling. She even built a new way of covering news that’s happening in real time, which is the blueprint that was used for coverage of the Martin’s shooting, Lami-Plast fire and other major news events of the past several months.”

“And she started making an impact on her first day. Given what she’s accomplished in her short time at the Elkhart Truth, it’ll be exciting to see what will come next for the recipient of this year’s Leading Change award  — congratulations, Anne Christnovich.  

Newsroom Staffer of the Year:

Dan Spalding- Winner of the 2014 Newsroom Staffer of the Year
Dan Spalding- Winner of the 2014 Newsroom Staffer of the Year

The winner of this award is the top Newsroom performer.

Nominees-  Amanda Mitchell, Dan Spalding, Rachel Terlep

“This journalist is a leader in every way. He writes deep, well-reported stories that inform our readers and make an impact on policies and life in our community.”

“He’s one of the newsroom’s most prolific bloggers and has gotten national attention for a blog post in 2013.”

“He live-tweets meetings.”

He holds city officials accountable, but has established good relationships with them so that they keep working with him even when he’s shined a light where they wish he wouldn’t.”

“But he also works with others to add layers to his stories online. His collaboration makes this hard-working journalist an even better one. He has developed the tools a modern journalist needs and wields them wisely.”

“This year’s Newsroom Staffer of the Year is Dan Spalding.”

Outstanding Achievement Award:

Natasha Tucker- Winner of the 2014 Outstanding Achievement Award
Natasha Tucker- Winner of the 2014 Outstanding Achievement Award

The winner of this award demonstrates ingenuity, determination and innovation.  He or she seeks results using their drive and passion while breaking down barriers to achieve success.

Nominees-  Rachel Terlep, Natasha Tucker, Sarah Welliver

“With very little training, this person was given the task of almost single-handedly forging the way toward a new digital opportunity. She spent countless hours researching, testing, and experimenting, while juggling her everyday duties. As the year progressed, she started to teach her co-workers the tips she had learned along the way.”

“The digital publications she has developed have become an integral part of the company’s future, opening many doors and ideas for new exciting products. She keeps calm and carries on no matter what is happening around her – and she does it with great creative flair.:

“That’s why this year’s Outstanding Achievement award winner is Natasha Tucker.”

Outstanding Sales Performance:

The winner of this award is our top sales performer.

Nominees-  Kelli Bienz, Mishanna Cramer, Minnie Hutch

“Kelli Bienz had an outstanding sales year in 2013 exceeding goal for the year. Kelli is a strategic thinker and develops integrated marketing solutions to deliver business-building results for her clients. Internally, she manages her account base with advanced planning, always working several months ahead. She has developed great working relationships with her accounts and is dedicated to being on time for every appointment. Kelli is a true role model for sales success. We are grateful for her continued success. Once again, this year’s Outstanding Sales Performance award goes to Kelli Bienz.”

Positive Mental Attitude Award:

Amanda Kolarich- Winner of the 2014 Positive Mental Attitude Award
Amanda Kolarich- Winner of the 2014 Positive Mental Attitude Award

The winner of this award encourages and coaches others to overcome obstacles.  He or she sees the “glass half full” and focuses on solutions, not problems.  Above all, he or she embraces change with enthusiasm and a smile and makes The Elkhart Truth a better place to work.

Nominees-  Amanda Kolarich, Christine Larson, Jen Price

“Even as a newcomer to the newspaper industry, this reward recipient has managed to hit the ground running. From her initial interview to her contributions on various committees and projects, she has exhibited a liveliness and enthusiasm that has helped energize many departments.  Determined to take customer service to new heights at the Truth, she focuses on solutions rather than problems, offers to help opposed to complain, and personifies service with a smile.”

“In her short tenure as the Customer Service Supervisor, she endured a most difficult winter, maintaining a professional and positive demeanor, while encouraging others to view the glass as half full when many times it was painfully obvious that it was completely empty.”

In the words of Winston Churchill: “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”

“And despite her small stature, she has made a big difference for us.”

“Congratulations, Amanda Kolarich.”

Newsboy (Employee of the Year):

Rather than a written description, we show a video:

Nominees-  Angelle Barbazon, Mishanna Cramer, Becky Fain

“We respond to breaking news more instinctively; we provide context and analysis more immediately; we use multimedia to illustrate our stories more extensively.”

“That helped create the largest audience in our history — and with it, new opportunities for financial growth.”

“Our newsboy led the way.”

“When we required staff to blog and promote their work on social media, she became an expert.”

Angelle Barbazon- 2014 Newsboy (Employee of the Year)
Angelle Barbazon- 2014 Newsboy (Employee of the Year)

“When we went digital first, she broke stories on a national crisis — the fungal meningitis outbreak — and used every tool at her disposal to provide valuable context.”

“She connected deeply with Sarah Crane and gently told a devastating tale of loss that helped unite an entire community.”

“If our newsboy had not gone first, no one would have followed — and we would not be poised today for the great things ahead of us in 2014.”

Our Newsboy for 2014 is Angelle Barbazon.

Open letter to Mr. Peyton Manning

Mr. Manning (Peyton? Not sure if I should call you that?)

We have not met in person, but I am a big fan from Northern Indiana. I have fond memories of your leadership in Tennessee and with the Colts. I have incredible respect for your abilities. You have incredible values, are a role model for millions and have a wonderful personality (love those commercials and humor!) 🙂 It was a very sad day when you left Indiana. We lost more than a football player… it was like the final episode of Friends. Miss you!

So… Last night was a really amazing night for you. Seven touchdowns! Congratulations! I think you tied some record or something. Anyway, I noticed that you decided to do an awful lot of passing, even when you were up by quite a margin. Well, I was thinking that your performance (really huge fan btw) was a little bit lopsided. I mean, the Broncos only had like 65 yards rushing or something close to that. So again, really inspired by your passion, I would respectfully suggest you and your coaches hand the ball off a few more times to your backs. NOT second guessing you at all (big fan :D).

Another suggestion? Well, if you feel the need to pass, how about Decker and Welker as your main guys? Really, really cool that Julius had a great first night. Inspiring. But, between us, you would not want that to go to his head right? Make him work and earn those looks! That is part of the good leadership you have exhibited in the past!

Oh, in fairness and openness, I happen to play in this fantasy football league. It really is not that big of deal and does not consume 40+ hours a week of my life. Here is the funny thing, you had all the analysts fooled. Who knew? We would not want them to feel poorly about themselves would we? They make their living doing the projections.  With your high value structure, I cannot believe that you would want to be a part of putting guys like Eisenberg out of work. But hey, that is just between us.

I really feel like this conversation is going well so let me show you where I stand at the moment in one league:

Really? Ouch?

Pretty crazy huh? Three players and 112 points. Wow. So, I was thinking that there may also be similar situations with other fantasy players across the country. Oh sure, those that have you and your receivers are doing a happy dance. I really want them to be happy and enjoy this win (yea!) Good team spirit and “its just a game” mentality… learned those from you! But here’s the thing. There could be a huge downside to this lopsided victory. I mean, the owners that have you may get some “unrealistic expectations” or even resort to hurtful trash talking and name calling to those they have played. That would not be good. We both agree on that I am sure…

So here is my solution. There is a game in November, the 19th, against New England. I was thinking that *maybe* you could run and kick more that game? I play Orange Crush again that week, and Mr. Manning, you would not want it to be unfair between us. I would even be willing to give you a free newspaper subscription to my hometown newspaper, The Elkhart Truth or, wait for it, be willing to host you at a Notre Dame tailgate and game of your choosing! USC is around the corner! And we have a pretty good QB in Tommy Rees… you could get a few pointers I am sure. Just a suggestion.

So again, great game! Keep it up! Remember to spread the love to your backs and kicker, and remember our “agreement” (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) coming up in November.

Your biggest fan! Go Irish! Errrr, I mean Broncos! 🙂


2013 NEFFFL Draft Results

So draft day is over. Not quite sure how I feel about the end result. I had the 11th pick in our PPR league and no shortage of opinions from Fantasy bloggers, friends and opponents telling me the correct draft strategy. There was also no shortage of trash talk from owners in the league. Many emails were sent containing misinformation and insults. Of particular note is an email sent by Chuckers containing his first round draft predictions. This led to this horrific comment by the 2012 Champion:

Burnham obviously is lying with his draft order. I think he wants Doug Martin with his pick. Just my guess.

And then this terrible indictment:

U should be in the Big Brother house Adam. U would do well on that show. LOL.

Tiring of this childish banter, I retired to my hammock to get down to work.

Beautiful day on the hammock, enduring the trash talk of friends on FB
Beautiful day on the hammock, enduring the trash talk of friends on FB
Screenshot from Facebook of the comments that kept me from my research on draft day.
Screenshot from Facebook of the comments that kept me from my research on draft day.

After all the prep and research on my hammock with my trusty phablet and iPad, I decided that I would go after Brees or Rodgers if they were available with my first pick and then go with a top RB on pick 14 (yes I KNOW this is a PPR league Jon!) The emails and comments on social media continued.

Misinformation came next, clearly exemplified in this quote and picture received just 29 minutes before the draft was to start:

Thank goodness for twitter to see all of the recent injury announcements.

Beer, Whiskey and Milk
Beer, Whiskey and Milk

So I setup my workspace, grabbed a beverage, and entered the draft room. In our particular league, the owners are scattered across the country, so we have a conference call. I was ready. My strategy, computer, iPad, phablet and second monitor all ready to go!

My setup in the "Bran-Cave"
My setup in the “Bran-Cave”

So the draft began, and the first 10 picks went like this:

  1. Adrian Peterson (RB)
  2. Doug Martin (RB)
  3. Payton Manning (QB)  *gasp*
  4. Jamaal Charles (RB)
  5. Calvin Johnson (WR)
  6. Ray Rice (RB)
  7. LeSean McCoy (RB)
  8. Drew Brees (QB)  *no surprise- see here*
  9. C.J. Spiller (RB)
  10. Marshawn Lynch (RB)

And then I was “on the clock.”

Rodgers was available. And just like that, I abandoned all of my hard work on the hammock, and selected Trent Richardson (RB) and then Arian Foster (RB) in the second round. An hour and thirty minutes later, it was over. My fate sealed.

During the call, there was a recurring knocking (three knocks in rapid succession). It was annoying and driving many of the owners crazy. References were made to the cause, yet it continued round after round.

That sound came from my phabet as I received texts. I hope that my fellow owners remember that sound, because just like the knocking did during the draft, my team will annoy and drive my opponents crazy. Keep looking over your shoulder and try not to end up like my good friend Poss seen here:

Fail. You lose Poss!
Fail. You lose Poss!

Game on!

2012 NEFFL Fantasy Football in Pictures

Today is draft day for the 2013 NEFFFL Fantasy Football season!

This is my second year in a highly competitive league made up of some of the biggest trash talkers around. Somehow, I made it into the the final game against Nancy Lane. See her blog here with her highly offensive photos and aloof commentary. She beat me easily.

Strongly considering a name change. I guess I am no longer a Newb. 🙂

I am looking forward to another year and hopefully another trophy run. Until then, here are a few memories of the 2012 season in picture form.







News 2.0 – Is there a need for an editor anymore?

**Published originally on my work blog here.

Last week I attended the Social+Mobile, Show Me the Money Conference, put on by Borrell Associates, Local Media Association and Local Search Association in Chicago. (Twitter feed: #somoconf and also check here and here for coverage). There were some amazing, and frightening, statistics presented by comScore, Facebook, Google and other speakers including this eye-opening video shown by Mark Preston of Hubbard Radio.

The way we consume news and information is changing at a pace that is impossible to catch. Believe me, I know. I cannot tell you how many times I have been approached by family, friends and complete strangers in my local community offering their condolences about being a newspaper publisher. Fortunately, our influence and reach continues to grow each and every day through our use of social media and our coverage of the life of those in the Elkhart area. We reach more people than we ever have before. But let’s save that topic for another blog. What I want to discuss is whether there is a need for an editor. That is, someone to tell you what is important and to prioritize the news.

According to Nielsen, 92% of people trust recommendations from people they know.

“People don’t trust advertising, at least not as much as they trust recommendations from friends and consumer opinions expressed online.”

So, back in the day, a newspaper with your morning coffee, drive-time in the car (radio) and watching local TV before heading to bed was pretty much the way to get the news. The local newsrooms were the editors who fed you information that was “important” and provided the topics to discuss around the water cooler or dinner table.

Times have changed dramatically. I look at how technology has impacted my life and interactions. I have a cell phone that keeps me connected 24/7. I really no longer need a desk, or the company phone that sits on it, a home telephone, or in many cases, even a computer. My children and I communicate via text messages throughout the day. I look to apps from Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Flipboard and Pinterest to gather information and communicate with family, friends and peers. I keep my files in the cloud so they are available from anywhere. I even stream entertainment from Chromecast, YouTube, Pandora and Google Music.  But more often than not, I click on links that my friends “share” or “promote” and attach relevance to those before I go to other more traditional sources. I rely on their influence to guide me to what I need to know.

Unfortunately, there is a dark and dangerous side to this system. Many of the links take me to a source that is politically motivated or just plain incorrect. Our access to this breadth of information on the internet does not make any of it true. Frankly, it is difficult sorting through all the “tabloid” stories, blogs and even websites created by marketers or persons with agendas. How does one decipher what is real and what one can trust? Google makes its living off of search, and providing relevant results. But no matter what logic is programmed into the code, it cannot filter this stream of information and provide only the truth. Is there still value in investing in a trained journalist who adheres to a code of ethics?

Make no mistake, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media services desperately want to be your editor, the position held by local media just a few short years ago. In fact, at the conference last week, I saw this slide:

A slide from a presentation at the Social+Mobile Conference 2013 by Matty de Castro of Facebook

A slide from a presentation at the Social+Mobile Conference 2013 by Matty de Castro of Facebook

Facebook indeed is personal, relevant and useful (based on your friends and likes). In this new world, you get to pick and choose what is important. All of social media gives you this choice, and I find myself quickly scanning through hundreds of posts, multiple times a day, stopping to click on a few that are of interest to me. Google and others are watching and recording my movements, and they serve up more and more content that an algorithm chooses based on my interests. In my case, I end up seeing more information about technology and fantasy football. It is like always eating dessert. The editor is just a self-serving computer script. And that is what worries me the most. What are you missing in your newsfeed? There are still veggies on the plate that we need to consume to be healthy.

The role of an editor is great in scope and growing with all of the additional ways we push information today. Assigning journalists to write stories, editing and deciding how information is “played” are some of the primary functions. They are vested and passionate about the areas in which they cover. They have an ego and make strong judgments on what is really important for the community to know. They should be like mom and espouse our local values. (If you can stomach having Marshall King as mom that is…) In reality, an editor takes the firehouse of information and filters it to a manageable stream that is prioritized and consumable. If you trust the brand for whom the editor works, you buy in to that particular set of importance. Trust is paramount.

Not one internet giant or social media company truly cares about my hometown here in Elkhart. In this new age, there is a need for balance. Social media is a great thing and has changed our lives for the better. But it does not replace the need for watchdog journalism. Someone that is monitoring the actions of local government officials, school boards and police. Someone that makes sure the community is up to speed on issues like taxes, budgets, crime, education, high school sports, etc. Someone who provides a voice to those that have none. We need to solve our problems on a local level, celebrate our successes and work through our unique challenges as a community. We can use social media as a tool to engage and communicate. In the end, I believe that an editor helps us see and prioritize those local issues most important to the health of our community.

So what do you think? Is it important to have an editor providing that front page story?