A new editor

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The selection of a newspaper’s editor often reveals much about the goals of a newspaper. Tomorrow marks the first official day of the Southeast Missourian’s new editor, Robert C. Miller. Most of you already know Bob through his humor columns and online features about living and working in Cape Girardeau County with his talented wife, Callie.

What you may not know is that Bob is a fast-rising star in Rust Communications who has climbed through our company ranks quickly with hard work, determination, talent, clear thinking and a spectacular team ethos. That journey began in 1996 as a reporter in Marble Hill at the Rust-owned Banner Press. Today, he holds the top position in the company’s flagship newsroom. One lesson revealed from this path is that individuals who work hard within Rust Communications and embrace opportunities to innovate have an opportunity to climb within the organization.

Another lesson is that this newspaper values local roots and knowledge. Bob grew up in a small town in Illinois, where his father was a Baptist minister. That ministry led the Miller family to Patton, Mo., where Bob’s career sprouted. From reporter, he quickly became editor of the Banner Press in Marble Hill and gained insight into the important roles and responsibilities a newspaper holds in a town beyond the news pages. After a few years, he joined the Southeast Missourian as a sports reporter. The climb continued as Jackson bureau reporter, county government reporter and then night news editor.

Along the way, Bob received high recognition for newswriting, including an invitation to attend a prestigious writing program at the Neiman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. Eventually, such recognition led him to being recruited by the St. Louis Post Dispatch. But it was clear, even while he worked in St. Louis, his heart was always at “home” in Jackson.

Last year, Bob was recruited back to the Southeast Missourian as managing editor with the plan for him to be elevated at this time to the editor position. Since his return, he has brought a nurturing spirit to the internal operations of the Missourian newsroom and a gung-ho attitude for innovation. This can be seen not only in the pages of the Missourian itself, but online in the newspaper’s comprehensive Web site, which features thousands of photos and stories plus video and other multimedia packages that never appear in print.

Bob’s studies at the American Press Institute during the past year, where he attended workshops on the future of news, added to his already keen scrutiny of the priorities in producing a daily newspaper and 24/7 Web site. But if you would ask him, more than any lessons learned elsewhere, the best learning has come from his mentor at the Missourian, Joe Sullivan, and the people he works with daily both within and outside the walls of the newspaper.

Inside, he and Joe have built one of the highest caliber newsrooms in the history of the newspaper. Part of that is a testament to their leadership. Another is simply a reflection of the vast talent of each member of the Missourian news staff. It’s no wonder that the newspaper and Web site have been recognized recently with some of the highest journalism awards within the state and across the country.

Some of Bob’s biggest influence on the identity of the newspaper has come in areas that will never get recognized in journalism contests, however, but will be appreciated by our daily readers. Concerned about the amount of negative news bombarding readers from national and international events, as well as crime and disappointing county shenanigans here, Bob challenged his staff to make sure positive news receives front-page play. Sometimes it’s tough to decipher in the midst of other media clutter, but for several months now the Southeast Missourian has prominently featured almost every day a positive local issue. Apropos, one of Bob’s earliest signature events as the new editor will be next week’s launch of a new Sunday section titled Good Times, which will feature all positive news about local events in this region.

Such a focus on good news doesn’t mean the Southeast Missourian will shy away from covering less uplifting topics, but it does underline that we are proud of this community and are an important partner in its progress. Of course, progress can also come by shining light into areas that deserve greater attention.

Bob will be taking over the newsroom reins from longtime editor Joe Sullivan, but thankfully, Joe is not leaving the Southeast Missourian, which means I will be able to write more about him later. Instead, Joe is transitioning to a new full-time editorial-page editor position and continuing his news consultant role for all of Rust Communications, which now includes 50 newspapers in eight states. After 14 years as editor here, his role will be no less significant. But it will entail fewer management duties.

So what are the lessons learned from this change?

The Southeast Missourian is geared to continue to be the most vital information source for your daily living. We will continue to privilege good news while also tackling the tough issues facing our community. This will be done with a sense of great responsibility, fairness — and openmindedness. And we will do it in print, online and any other way that you want and need it. Welcome, Bob; you have your work cut out for you.

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian and co-president of Rust Communications.

E-mail: jrust@semissourian.com.

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