When Jane Davenport was appointed managing editor of the Toronto Star in June she said it was a bit “daunting.” Now, a few months into the job, she talks with Eric Mark Do about her past experience launching Metro Halifax, the Star’s digital future and what it’s like managing coverage of a mayor who boycotts your newspaper.

When Jane Davenport was appointed managing editor of the Toronto Star in June she said it was a bit “daunting.” Now, a few months into the job, she talks with Eric Mark Do about her past experience launching Metro Halifax, the Star’s digital future and what it’s like managing coverage of a mayor who boycotts your newspaper.

 

J-Source: When you were appointed managing editor in June, you said it was "a little bit daunting, but … exciting." Now that you've had a few months to settle into the role, how would you describe it?

Jane Davenport: I think it's an exciting time to be in journalism generally, and there's a lot of momentum at the Star right now. It's a very busy time — we're putting into place a number of new initiatives to try and broaden the scope of our coverage, to try and bring ourselves further into the digital world. So I would say it's still very exciting. It's challenging, it's a challenging time for newspapers generally – the Star's no exception. But we're committed to continue to grow and to meet those challenges. I guess exciting is still the best way to describe the job.

J-Source: You've also held a number of editing positions at a number of different papers over the years, including managing editor at Metro Halifax. What are some of the similarities in these two positions? The differences?

JD: That was a very different experience in the sense that I was named managing editor of Metro Halifax right when the paper was launching. So it was really about starting that operation from the ground up and figuring out and learning from scratch how every part of this new operation needed to work. And thinking about how it should work. That newspaper in the context of the Metro chain was a little bit different at the time because they launched it with six reporters – so it was a little bit of a departure from how it was running in other markets. So it was interesting to think about how we could use those resources. I mean six reporters is not a very big team, but how we could use those resources to cover as much news as we could and to get as much news as we could into the paper.

At the Star it's a different experience in the sense that obviously it's a much bigger newsroom and we're not building it from the ground up. But some of the management challenges remain the same and a lot of the decisions that you make about news are comparable.

But in terms of: Is this a valid news story? How do we approach this story? Is it fair and balanced? Those principles, certainly for me anyway, from that newsroom to this, don't change. And the idea of working with people and working with your team — obviously this is a much bigger team, but those basic principles don't change either. Obviously at the Star, the resources available to try and do the very best journalism that you can, are just much wider by definition.

J-Source: The new NADbank numbers came out recently and they show that the Star's readership has grown in print and online over the last year. Publisher John Cruickshank said it showed the readers' faith in the Star's investigative journalism and city news coverage. What do you take away from these numbers and what will you be working on to keep this momentum moving forward?

JD: What I took away from it was a feeling of encouragement and a sense that our readers do value what we have to offer. As John said, we have a strong focus on investigative reporting, our city coverage is excellent. Our goal is to dominate the market; our goal moving forward is to continue dominating the market in terms of the City of Toronto and the GTA. We want to continue to invest in the type of projects that he was mentioning — investigative projects.

We've also launched four global beats that are sort of outward looking – that look at health, the environment, science and technology, and global economics. The idea of these beats is that they have a strong digital focus and that they really look outward and past the borders of the GTA. And so going forward I think that's something we're going to be able to offer our readers that broaden our international coverage and kind of the global perspective that we're able to give readers. So that's another focus going forward.

J-Source: So it's a digital platform that you are going for there?

JD: It's a combination. The beats will produce long-form articles for the newspaper and in some cases – as warranted – daily hits overnight. But the premise of the beats is that they will live digitally. And they will have a very strong digital focus and presence on thestar.com.

J-Source: We're starting to see more videos on thestar.com, and you mentioned that these new foreign beats will have some digital aspect to it. Are there any other digital projects in the works that we can expect to see from the Star?

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JD: What I would say going forward — and this is something that we've sort of been focusing on and ramping up over the course of at least the past year — is that you can expect to see major projects that we do have stronger multimedia presence. So that can include video components. It could include a strongly built-out page on thestar.com. It could include more interactive features. Digital is very much a part of our future; it's part of where we see ourselves going. And some of the major projects that we're planning for the months ahead, I think will have a well thought-out and strong digital presence.

Just looking back over the last few months, some of the multimedia projects we've done have been nominated for multiple awards. For example, Michelle Shephard and Randy Risling's project on famine in Somalia, and a couple more sort of GTA-centric ones. We've just had Randy Risling's “30 days in America” project come out. It's this huge map of America and he spent 30 days and went all across the United States basically and did a series of interviews with people on a specific set of questions and there's little video clips of each one and it's pretty neat interactive experience. And the more types of projects we can do or the more sort of digital ways we find to make our major reporting projects more robust, we'll keep looking for them.

J-Source: So these digital projects, are they important because of engagement? Is it digital first?

JD: They're important because of engagement. We're very aware that our readership isn't limited to print anymore. More and more people are finding us – as the Nadbank numbers showed – more and more people are finding us at thestar.com. We want to make sure that the experience at thestar.com isn't identical to the experience of reading the newspaper. We understand that the digital audience operates differently. So yes, the point of the projects is to engage readers, to offer them something that will bring them to thestar.com and keep them on thestar.com and make them want to return to see what we're doing next or on the next day.

J-Source: You've been at the Star for a number of years. Is handling coverage of Mayor Rob Ford different now as the managing editor?

JD: The considerations don't change — publishing the Star is a team effort. We make every effort to be balanced and fair in our coverage of the mayor. And we make that effort despite the fact that we have limited access to him, which can make it very difficult to get the perspective of the office of the mayor. But the basic considerations and the approach to coverage, our standards are the same from story to story. I was the night news editor before, so those considerations in terms of how the story goes into the paper and what it's saying – and that it is balanced – the basic premise doesn't change depending on where you are in the newsroom.

J-Source: I remember that the Star was singled out by Mayor Ford at one point, but now it appears that the Fords are criticizing other news organizations including The Globe and Mail and Newstalk1010. Does it make a difference now that you're not the only news organization being criticized?

JD: No it doesn't make a difference to us one way or another. We think it would be great if the mayor spoke to us. We think it would be great if the mayor of the city spoke to any news organization that has a question for him. So no, I can honestly say that doesn't and will not affect our approach to trying to provide robust coverage of city hall.

J-Source: I've noticed more hyperlinks on Star stories linking to older stories. Is that a conscious effort?

JD: Yes! We think it's useful for readers. If they're reading any article on a given day we want to make sure that they know what else is available on our website basically that could guide them to how we've covered the story in the past. So basically those hyperlinks are there to make sure that readers have access to the full breadth of work that we've done on any given topic. And we hope it will guide people deeper into our site and give them something informative and useful to read on the next page they land on.

 

This interview has been edited.