St. Louis Post-Dispatch Editor Alan Achkar: Changes are coming
Last month, Alan Achkar returned to a city he knows well to take over a newspaper he also knows well: The former metro editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is now its executive editor.
And he’s already making changes. The newspaper veteran, most recently executive editor of the South Bend Tribune in Indiana, acknowledged that he’s directed the paper away from arts reviews after taking a look at web traffic.
“Here's the beauty of the digital age: We get real-time metrics,” he explained on Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air. “We can look to see any story at any given time, any podcast, any video, how many people are reading it, how many people are watching it.”
And for arts reviews, the numbers just weren’t there.
“So then you say, well, do we just keep doing that? Or do we want to rethink the arts coverage?” Achkar said. “What if we did more profiles of interesting artists in town? What if we did more coverage in advance of shows and performances? What if we looked for more trends, stories and features in the arts community? Maybe that coverage actually appeals to people who would not ordinarily care about the arts or follow the arts. Maybe that's actually a way to grow the audience: Present information in a better way, rather than just doing these reviews that clearly were not reaching a large number of people.”
Achkar acknowledged the danger in relying too heavily on web analytics. But, he warned: “Arts is only a small piece of news coverage. The topics we cover, how we cover them, do we have the right beats, are we placed in the right areas in town for news coverage? We're evaluating that. There likely will be changes.”
Born in Lebanon and raised in Cleveland, Achkar started his newspaper career at the Cleveland Plain Dealer before moving to St. Louis in 2005. After a decade in the Gateway City, he left to run the South Bend Tribune. Then a family-owned daily, the paper was recently acquired by Gannett.
Achkar replaces Gilbert Bailon, who returned to the Dallas area to serve as executive editor of KERA, the public radio and TV behemoth serving Dallas and Fort Worth. Bailon had spent just shy of 10 years as the Post-Dispatch’s top editor.
Not long before Bailon announced his departure, hedge fund Alden Global Capital made an unsolicited bid for the Post-Dispatch’s owner, Iowa-based Lee Enterprises. Alden is known for buying newspapers only to cut them to the bone.
Lee fended off the first overture, but Alden continues to fight. Asked if he was worried about the company’s plans, Achkar said they were not at the top of his mind. “The list of things to worry about — you know, we are trying to figure out a business model that can sustain us in the future, we're trying to figure out how to build a digital audience, keep the print audience, deliver the paper on time.
“At the end of the day, that happened before I came here. We can be focused on what we can control here. I can't control those forces. And we’ve got other things we’ve got to worry about as well.”
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Emily Woodbury, Kayla Drake, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.