Long Beach Press-Telegram’s Melissa Evans wins Mid-Level Editor DFMie

Melissa Evans, who leads the Press-Telegram’s forces in the Long Beach “newspaper war,” won the 2014 Mid-Level Editor of the Year DFMie.

The nomination explains:

Melissa Evans is a leader on the rise in the Los Angeles News Group and DFM.

In 2013, the Press-Telegram was directly challenged by a new competitor, the Long Beach Register. This launch of a new product in Long Beach received extensive national and local media coverage. The Register attempted to raid the Press-Telegram staff, and its executives insulted the P-T at every opportunity.

This was not only a local battle, but a corporate one — the Register’s CEO challenged our company’s vision to be transformational. Scrutiny came externally and internally, yet

Evans, the city editor of the Press-Telegram, coolly handled this pressure. Indeed, she viewed it as an opportunity.

Evans began 2013 as the assistant city editor in Long Beach, which LANG’s senior editors had assessed as being its most challenging newsroom. Evans’ talent was apparent, however, and as part of a comprehensive makeover of the P-T staff, Evans was promoted to the newsroom’s daily leader and asked to implement an ambitious slate of initiatives, dizzying in their own right.

Evans assumed her new role in March, as LANG was switching to the Saxotech editorial system. She was a leader in the room, assisting staff in understanding and embracing new workflows even as LANG wrestled with the initial limitations of the new system and the collateral impact on deadlines.  At the same time, she took on challenging HR issues that had long languished. She helped effect profound cultural change, implement numerous new procedures, hire new staff, raise the level of journalism in the newsroom and, of course, continue and accelerate the digital first transformation.

Evans simultaneously maintained her leadership position not only in Long Beach, but in LANG as well. She is a member of the ethics committee, which formulated from scratch (and has updated it since) extensive professional guidelines and standards for LANG’s journalists. Long Beach is responsible for two LANG regional beats, and Evans routinely leads daily news meetings for the entire group.

Evans’ positive impact on the Press-Telegram was immediately apparent. In April, just a month after she became city editor, Evans led the staff to a DFMie with its strong, digital first coverage of the city’s premier annual event, the Long Beach Grand Prix. But it wasn’t just the journalism. It was the attitude of the newsroom that was changing.

Then the Register announced it was coming to Long Beach.

Evans’ intimidating to-do list became a lot longer, very quickly. LANG’s plans for Long Beach went into hyper-drive, and Evans was a key player in developing the game plan as the P-T prepared to defend its very existence.

Several new staffers, replacing those who departed, were seamlessly blended into a diverse mix of personalities. Prior to Evans’ tenure, reporters were frequently absent from the newsroom. Now it was overflowing with journalists excitedly talking about enterprise and investigative possibilities. A newsroom that was the most dysfunctional in LANG a year earlier was now its most cohesive.

Under Evans, the Press-Telegram launched new community pages emphasizing more calendars and hyperlocal content, stronger A-1 centerpieces, special wraparound editions of Cal State Long Beach news and implemented better planning — which is now the model for all city editors in LANG. The neighborhoods series that Evans launched and led was so popular that the Register immediately copied it.

Evans embraced LANG’s aggressive community-engagement strategies and began speaking before community and student groups. She has helped lead “happy hours,” in which staff members interact with the public. And she began writing a weekly column, which has quickly became a popular feature in Sunday’s edition.

Evans also hasn’t allowed the P-T newsroom to lose its digital focus. The Press-Telegram’s Facebook page likes have grown 46.7 percent since July 1 as social strategies are implemented.

The P-T breaks news digitally daily, naming a few recent examples: the stabbing death of a teacher in front of her students at a public park, the entry of the Long Beach police chief into the county sheriff’s race, and the ouster of the head of the marina bureau over an illegal dock. Breathless Register reporters arrived to cover the teacher’s slaying after our reporter’s comprehensive Twitter feed from the scene made them realize they were missing a huge story.

And the Press-Telegram, under Evans’ leadership, consistently provides compelling enterprise content as well, such as an exclusive and very compelling human interest piece on Kevin Woyjeck, a Seal Beach man killed in the Arizona fires, another piece that ran LANG-wide examining how returning veterans are fundamentally changing our universities and of course the aforementioned neighborhood series which helped reconnect the P-T with its readers.

Finally, Melissa’s team has excelled with live coverage. The P-T’s coverage of the Long Beach Grand Prix, a monthly DFMie winner, and the Long Beach Marathon are but two examples.

As for as the Register, the P-T has yet to lose a single digit of market share. Single-copy sales are up as well as year-over-year advertising sales. It has become commonplace for the Register to feature multiple stories on its front page that ran, as exemplified by the Feb. 6 issue, the prior week in the P-T. And digitally? Well, we’re still waiting for the Register to launch the new web site it promised six months ago and we’ve heard their reporters say how much they appreciate our Twitter feeds as their tip service.

The nomination included a Storify linking to some of her best work of 2013.

Judges’ comments:

In the face of a changing media landscape, Melissa Evans took on considerable responsibility and excelled as the city editor of the Press-Telegram. She has shown impressive managerial skills that allowed her newsroom to drive the news report in the face of serious competition and staff poaching. Not only has she devoted time and effort to the newsroom’s digital and and in-person community engagement, she’s also improved the culture of the newsroom.

This is one of five DFMies for the Los Angeles News Group.

About Melissa Evans 

Melissa Evans

Melissa Evans

Evans has been a journalist for 20 years. She worked as a reporter for several newspapers, including DFM papers The Argus (Fremont, Calif.), The Sun (Lowell, Mass.) and the Daily Breeze (Torrance, Calif.), before joining the Long Beach Press-Telegram as an editor in November 2012.

She graduated from San Diego State University in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, and from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles in 2013 with a master’s degree in theology. She spent the bulk of her career covering religion and health, and has completed a number of fellowships in these specialized areas.

As an editor at the Press-Telegram, she led the Long Beach staff to award-winning coverage of the Toyota Grand Prix last spring, along with coverage of the California State University education system and breaking news coverage of a mass shooting in Downey, Calif.

Other finalists

Other finalists for Mid-Level Editor of the Year were:

  • Tom Cleary, who as co-managing editor of the Register Citizen in Torrington, Conn., edited and joined in the reporting on the story of rape and bullying at Torrington High School that was the heart of the Register Citizen’s winner of the Public Service DFMie. Cleary was a mentor to Jessica Glenza, Journalist of the Year for small-daily newsrooms, and has been named to lead DFM’s breaking news team for Connecticut.
  • Julie Westfall, who built and leads Thunderdome’s breaking news team. She led coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing, converting the sports live blog quickly to a platform for breaking news about the bombing, and led staff efforts to continually update a digital mainbar structured around “what we know.”
Steve Buttry

By Steve Buttry

Steve Buttry is Digital Transformation Editor for Digital First Media. He oversees our efforts to transform newsroom operations and culture to more effectively pursue our digital goals. His duties include responsibility for social media and community engagement. He has visited most DFM newsrooms personally, leading workshops and coaching editors and other journalists in following the Digital First approach.

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