It’s been two months, readers, since I was hired to lead all news operations here at Growing Community Media — long enough for me to get grounded and time now to introduce myself to you. It’s been a wild and fun ride, for sure. I’ll explain, and when I do, I’ll share my vision for our community news organizations you’ve loved and supported for so many years.
My name is Erika Hobbs, and I’m an award-winning, veteran journalist who has worked at the Philadelphia Inquirer, Orlando Sentinel, Center for Public Integrity, Newsweek and other publications. I’m a digital strategist with a track record of transforming newsrooms into audience-focused publications. I’m a cat lady, favorite aunt (wink) and spiritual seeker who is committed to high-quality, authentic and representative local news.
My role here is a little different than what you may be used to. Growing Community Media is a nonprofit organization with four publications under its umbrella: Austin Weekly News, Forest Park Review, Riverside-Brookfield Landmark and Wednesday Journal. In the past, one editor and maybe one reporter was assigned to each coverage area. We’ve changed that structure. I act as editor-in-chief of all four publications, so I steer the plans with help from our reporters and edit all of the stories that come in. Our reporters are still embedded in each community — we wouldn’t have it any other way —but changing the structure eases their workload so they can focus on the quality news and information you deserve.
That new structure also frees me to set the vision for GCM for how we’ll grow, how we’ll better serve you and how we’ll continue to nurture our staff. It’s going to be tough, but I promise you that it will also be exciting and transformative. And you’ll be a part of it all.
Our mission is to connect “citizens through community journalism rooted deep in our neighborhoods, based in facts, and reflective of voices not always heard.” Sometimes we’ve done that beautifully. Sometimes we could have done better. We’ve talked the talk. Now it’s time to walk the talk. Here’s how I plan to do that:
- Beginning in November, I’ll be holding meet-and-greet sessions in all our coverage areas so you can meet me personally and ask me anything you like.
- By the beginning of the year, we’ll expand that to hold deep listening sessions with each community so we can learn how we can serve you better.
- Also in the beginning of the year, we will begin intensive diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging trainings to transform our internal culture, and as part of that, we’ll publicly display our DEIB statement that will be crafted from that work. We recognize that we have a lot to learn. We will do better. And our coverage will authentically represent the communities we cover.
- We will be focusing on audience-first coverage, which means we’ll be listening more.
- It also means we’ll operate with a digital mindset. You’ll see more content online, on social media and in newsletters. We’ll be experimenting with content types and delivery of news and information. Does this mean the paper will go away? No. It means that we’ll bring you better stories in more 21st-century ways.
- You’ll see stories that offer solutions to the problems we write about and offer more ways that readers can help.
We’re already on our way to reaching our goals. Reporter Francia Garcia Hernandez, for example, wrote about how survivors of domestic violence can get help. Digital manager Stacy Coleman revamped our community page to help you find what’s new and to-do about town. And we’ll be piloting a newsletter strategy in Wednesday Journal that we hope to expand across the board after we learn more about what readers want in their inboxes.
Finally, we’ll be making key hires in coming months to ensure quality coverage continues. You’ll see invigorated writing, bright voices and bold design.
Growing Community Media is a leader in the local news space. It’s an award-winning publication with a stable financial foundation and some of journalism’s best at the helm and on the ground. I’m proud to be here. And I’m just as proud — even thrilled — that I’ll be leading GCM through its digital evolution. Stick around. You’ll love it. I promise.
Feel free to drop tips, questions and comments anytime. You can reach me at email@example.com.