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An unsung hero of Journal Register Company’s turnaround

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Emily M. Olson

This morning we welcomed a new editor at The Register Citizen in Torrington. Yesterday, our company announced its first-ever profit sharing program and handed out an extra week’s pay to every employee.

Both made me stop and think about the contribution of Emily M. Olson and hundreds of employees like her across Journal Register Company.

For years, Emily worked hard for “the old JRC” as a reporter and editor at our weeklies in western Connecticut including the Litchfield County Times and New Milford Times.

She was editor of the Litchfield Enquirer, the oldest newspaper in Connecticut, in January 2009 when JRC filed for bankruptcy, closed the paper and laid her off. Three months later, our neighboring JRC division in Torrington had an opening for a copy editor, and we brought her back into the company.

Emily was promoted and became the founding editor of four new weekly papers that we launched in early 2010 as “the new JRC” emerged under the leadership of John Paton. One of the papers we launched was The Litchfield News, filling the void left by the Enquirer’s demise and utilizing Emily’s knowledge and relationships to re-establish our commitment to that community under a new business model.

Fresh off this success, Emily was promoted to managing editor, the #2 position in our newsroom. Then our top editor joined the staff of our sister paper, the New Haven Register, and Emily filled in as we launched a thorough search for his replacement.

By thorough, I mean that this was five and a half months ago, and our new editor started this morning.

In the meantime, we underwent one of the most radical transformations of a physical newsroom in the country.

When the New York Times came to interview staff about the launch of The Register Citizen Newsroom Cafe and an “open newsroom,” the reporter wanted to speak to the person on our staff with the longest history in print newspapers. Someone who might have the most natural resistance to suddenly conducting story meetings that are open to the public and live-streamed on the web. Someone who might think engaging the audience at every step of the process of local journalism is too much a departure from traditional media.

That would be Emily. Except her message was incredibly positive, despite the huge leap we were making into uncharted waters. And despite the fact that she was holding down two jobs at the time (and three jobs for a while as we unexpectedly had a vacancy in our weekly editor slot as well). And despite the fact that she hadn’t quite signed up for such a position of leadership in our own newsroom, not to mention the newspaper industry itself.

She was designing print edition pages at midnight and appearing on NPR with Jeff Jarvis at 9 a.m. the next morning articulating an incredible message of change for traditional newspapers. And then back at the Newsroom Cafe, talking to members of the public about story ideas and corrections and bringing the community into the planning process for the day’s local news cycle.

Who is behind what has been called a remarkable – and remarkably rapid – turnaround at Journal Register Company? People like Emily Olson and many, many others like her across the 992 communities the company serves with local journalism and advertising. As John Paton asked them to do just over a year ago, they are “changing the tires of a car while it is driving down the highway.”


Written by mattderienzo

March 15, 2011 at 1:29 pm

6 Responses

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  1. […] An unsung hero of Journal Register Company’s turnaround « The Publisher’s Desk. Filed under Journalism ← Highlights from SXSW: 7 steps to building trust and […]

  2. Well,
    Speaking as someone who hired Emily all those years ago in Westchester for what was, I believe, her first job in journalism, I can’t think of anyone more deserving of recognition for her many years laboring in the JRC salt mines.
    You’re lucky to have her Matt.

    Evan Brandt

    March 15, 2011 at 5:42 pm

  3. Emily has always been somone I have counted on in my life when I needed her most. From bedtime stories to frantic late night phone calls, she’s the best sister in the world. Now you know how great she is too!

    Melissa Pionzio

    March 17, 2011 at 6:53 pm

  4. Emily is one of the many people who has passion in their work and that makes her excel on her craft. Her excellence reminds me of a quotation from a movie “Pursue excellence and, success will follow”. Emily is simply excellent in her job and being a good leader.


    August 12, 2011 at 12:35 pm

  5. […] Print Last” motto. The guy who reached into his old mentor Doug Creighton’s back of tricks and gave employees a week’s pay as a bonus when they hit an operating “profit” of $41 million coming out of bankruptcy. That John Paton is […]

  6. […] She was described by her publisher at the time (and now her group editor), Matt DeRienzo as an “unsung hero” of the Journal Register Co. turnaround. In the video below, Emily discusses the Register Citizen’s Newsroom Café , recognized by […]

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