Tom Clifford

Director of Digital Media, The Post and Courier

Charleston, SC

[SC-E 0301]

I’ve done a lot of different kinds of work in newsrooms, but I had never – I’d always seen the weeklies – in every operation I’d ever been to – the weeklies have always seemed like the step sisters, the ugly stepchild child kind of thing, you know, where they kind of put people away to retire out their career. And in Florida I had the opportunity to kind of take over the weeklies operation – it was a promotion – and I didn’t have any really clue what we were doing – what I was getting myself into. But we had a fairly dynamic group of weekly publications serving the market. And [I] went in and immediately started focusing on the hyper-local service mission, and what we were able to do – or not able to do – to serve these communities.

I ended up – after a very short period of time – engaging in people in our communities at a level and a degree that I never had experienced in any community that I ever had been in. People would call up to talk about their community. They would talk about their neighbor – what their kid did – in baseball. They were talking about, you know, what their grandmother had done to help improve the community in some fashion or another.

And we had a kind of dynamic experience happening at the paper where we had to shift focus on these publications because of change in directions and stuff. And there was a move actually underway to kill them – to end the publications because the return wasn’t as high as they wanted.

And I made a concerted effort to push this idea of turning what was left of our weekly operation into an operation that focused on the positive achievements of the community’s youth. And that was it – that was our mission statement. Was – no we’re not going to be the chicken dinner kind of people – we’re not going to be the Rotary club – we’re not going to do the grandmother visits – and we’re not going to do these other things. We’ll figure out ways to get that news online – so it was always there – but it wasn’t the priority for print and for online – most of the online was devoted to positive achievements of the community’s youth in civic, education youth – youth sports – and really anything that had to do with them. And saw a real transformation happen in what we were doing in print and online.

We had huge growth in our website traffic – huge growth in readership just based on the reaction I got from readers. And we addressed that age-old complaint – that newspapers were getting – that when some kid did something wrong you get the call eventually from somebody who said, “You never report anything good going on about kids.” So we were able to say, “Well, actually, in fact, we do. And here’s where you can read it in print and here’s where you can see it online.”

At that time my kids were also of the prime target area, so I was serving – I was being very selfish about the whole thing. But even despite those kind of selfish motivations, I was getting the kind of feedback and reaction that, I think, was increasing the reputation of the newspaper in a way that was unique and special and different. And again we were seeing huge growth in traffic online.

So I knew that we had that passion point hit. And you know there’s lots of touchstone moments in people’s careers about – you know – I did a great investigative report – I did – I brought down a politician – I uncovered this graft over here – I’ve got those kind of stories all over the place. I’ve done special reports. I’ve worked – developed new products and everything else. I’ve redesigned newspapers. That’s all great – that’s wonderful – that’s great stuff.

But probably the experience that’s most visceral to me was the fact that I was able to take a passion topic for myself – which was my kids – and kind of apply it to the newspaper in a way that let everybody kind of experience the same thing – through their kids.

And, I think, I never felt closer to the community. I never felt more important to the community. And I never felt like I was having as kind of a tangible, lasting impact on the community than I did with that project – if you will.