Veteran McClatchy editor will be the first woman to lead the company’s news division

Kristin Roberts
Kristin Roberts

Kristin Roberts, one of four regional editors and executive editor for politics at McClatchy, has been named vice president of news, the company announced Wednesday. Roberts becomes the first woman to lead the news division in McClatchy’s 162-year history.

Her new responsibilities include oversight of the Sacramento-based media company’s 30 newsrooms across 14 states, its corporate news operations and McClatchy Studios, which produces documentaries. McClatchy’s regional editors in the West, Central and Carolinas will report to her.

Roberts will assume her new role May 27. She will report to Craig Forman, McClatchy president and chief executive, and join the six-member senior executive leadership team.

Roberts will remain in Miami, where she has been based as East Region editor, overseeing newsrooms including the Miami Herald, el Nuevo Herald, Lexington Herald Leader and the McClatchy Washington Bureau.

“Kristin is a superb newsperson and a skilled digital innovator,” Forman said in a statement. “We are confident that her experience, vision and ingenuity will serve the company well as we accelerate our digital transformation.”

The company has made strides in that effort. In May, McClatchy reported having more than 179,000 digital-only subscribers, a 60 percent increase compared with the first quarter of 2018. Total paid digital accounts, including joint print and digital subscriptions, hit 474,400 at the end of the first quarter of 2019, up 34 percent from a year ago.

The industry, however, continues to see declines in traditional print advertising. McClatchy reported $180 million in revenue in the first quarter. Although the company posted its best operating cash flow trend in three years, it nonetheless reported a $42 million net loss, 8 percent wider than a year earlier.

The company sold two pieces of real estate, in Miami and Kansas City, Mo., this spring to help pay down $745 million in debt that it held at the end of the first quarter. That compares with the $5.6 billion the company held after the acquisition of Knight Ridder in 2006.

Roberts expressed optimism that the company’s digital strategy will pay off.

“McClatchy’s newsrooms are led by thoughtful and creative journalists whose teams are delivering essential local news and information to our readers and viewers every day,” she said in a statement. “I’m thrilled to partner with them as we experiment on new platforms and launch ever-more ambitious projects to serve our growing audience.”

Last year, McClatchy restructured its news operations under four regional editors, and Roberts was chosen to lead the East in addition to her Washington Bureau duties. The company said it had no immediate announcement about next steps for those roles.

The other regional editors are Lauren Gustus in the West, which includes The Sacramento Bee and the Idaho Statesman; Mike Fannin in the Central, which includes The Kansas City Star and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram; and Robyn Tomlin in the Carolinas, which includes The Charlotte Observer, the News & Observer in Raleigh and The State in Columbia, S.C.

Before joining McClatchy, Roberts served as national editor at Politico, where she guided coverage of the 2016 presidential race, and as managing editor at National Journal. Both are based in Washington, D.C.

Roberts began her career at Reuters, spending 13 years covering Wall Street and economics in New York and Miami. She moved to Washington to cover defense and foreign policy before taking on newsroom leadership roles in Reuters’ Washington Bureau.

The changes come amid McClatchy’s move to an organizational structure more common to successful digital companies than to the traditionally geographically rigid newspaper business. The company accelerated its regionalization efforts in 2017 and has increasingly focused revenue efforts on its relationship with paying customers and advertising.

Also this week, McClatchy announced that Andrew Pergam, vice president of news operations and new ventures, will leave in July to join Facebook. Scott Manuel, vice president of customer and product, will take over much of Pergam’s portfolio, including the McClatchy New Ventures Lab and the company’s strategic partnerships with platforms such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and Apple.

In March, McClatchy and Google unveiled plans for a digital partnership, dubbed the “Compass Experiment,” to create local news websites in three small-to-medium U.S. cities.