Exclusive: USA Today Just Appointed Its First Female Editor-in-Chief

March 20, 2017, 6:45 PM UTC
Views Of Gannett Co. Inc. And Tegna Inc. Headquarters Following June Spinoff
Photograph by Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg via Getty Images

This story has been updated. See below.

The top ranks of the news world just got a little more diverse.

As the chief content officer of publishing giant Gannett (GCI), Joanne Lipman has spent the past year figuring out how to coordinate news coverage between more than 3,000 reporters at 110 different U.S. news publications. Now, she is taking on an additional role: editor-in-chief of the company’s flagship publication, USA Today.

In her new role, Lipman says she will be more involved in USA Today‘s daily operations as well as continue to focus on collaboration between the national publication and the rest of the USA Today network (this includes all of the Gannett’s U.S. publications; the holding company’s properties also include brands in the U.K.). The titles in the network include The Arizona Republic, The Indianapolis Star, The Des Moines Register, and the Detroit Free Press.

Lipman says the USA Today network differs from other major new organizations in that it has “boots on the ground all over the country.” That’s dramatically different from the industry as a whole: According to The Washington Post‘s analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data, one out of every five journalist jobs is in New York, Los Angeles, or Washington, D.C. Lipman says only about one of every 38 of USA Today’s reporters are based in one of those three cities.

“We really do represent all of America,” Lipman says, noting that the 109 local publications—which are spread across 34 states and Guam—are all over the map in terms of readership demographics. Being in “red states, blue states, big cities, and small towns” helps Lipman and other top editorial leaders “make sure that we understand Americans on both sides of the divide.” In total, the network’s publications receive about 110 million unique visitors every month.

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Lipman, the first woman to ever hold the editor-in-chief role at USA Today, has been a trailblazer throughout her journalism career. She was the first female deputy managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, and founding editor-in-chief of Conde Nast’s Portfolio magazine.

Her promotion comes at a time when the makeup of U.S. newsrooms is under increasing scrutiny. As The New York Times public editor Liz Spayd pointed out earlier this month: “Being the only woman in a meeting can produce a feeling of having walked into the men’s room. But more significantly a gender, or racial, imbalance changes what’s considered news. When you combine the two variables — race and gender — you’re no longer representing the audience you’re trying to reach.”

According to an annual report by Women’s Media Center (WMC), which analyzed 27,758 pieces of content, 62.1% of news in 2014 was produced by a man. The gender gap was even wider when it came to political news: 65% of all U.S. political stories in 2014 were reported by a man.

While USA Today did not provide organization-wide statistics on the diversity of its workforce, Lipman did point to a number of women in leadership roles across the Gannett organization, including Maribel Wadsworth, Gannett’s SVP and chief transformation officer. Gannett is also one of a few Fortune 500 companies to have ever been run by a woman: Gracia Martore ran the company prior to the spin-off of its print business in 2015 (the new company retained the name). She now runs Tegna (TGNA), which comprises the original Gannett’s the broadcasting and digital media business.

This story has been updated to reflect that Lipman is not the first woman to hold the top editorial role. Karen Jurgensen was USA Today’s top editor from 1999 until 2004, though she was not the publication’s editor-in-chief.

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