Yesterday, USA Today‘s editor-in-chief David Callaway announced that the paper had hired Rem Rieder, the longtime editor of the American Journalism Review as the new media editor. As part of his role overseeing media coverage for the paper, Mr. Rieder will continue writing a column on the subject for the newspaper.
The hire brings some serious journalism chops to the “Nation’s Newspaper,” which was widely ridiculed for its use of graphics, color and infotainment when it launched in 1982. But a lot has changed in the past 30 years. The Internet, for one, has made the idea of a national daily both less laughable and harder to keep relevant. Last fall, USA Today redesigned the paper, tablet app and the website in an effort to keep up with the changing times.
“The increasing role of media in all our lives means that every company is now a media company, and everyone a media personality,” Mr. Callaway said in the hiring announcement. “Rem’s role will include working with media columnists such as Michael Wolff, and USA Today reporters across the country as they cover the empires and innovators behind this evolution.”
AJR is a bimonthly magazine owned by the University of Maryland’s journalism school and devoted to media reporting and media criticism, which regularly publishes long, in-depth articles about the state of journalism today. Mr. Rieder has been AJR‘s only full-time editorial employee since 2007, when the bimonthly mag nearly shut down, (yesterday, the university announced internal interim replacements).
Mr. Rieder told The Observer that he will draw on his experience at AJR in shaping the paper’s media coverage.
“I’ve been writing columns about [the media] for a long time, and running a magazine that covers it, so I think I have a good sense of the field and where it’s going,” he said. “I have a sense of traditional journalism values and at the same time, a sense of great excitement about the digital world.”
But what can readers look forward to from USA Today‘s media reporting? Will the focus be on legacy institutions like The New York Times or new media darlings like Buzzfeed? Mr. Rieder dodged the question. “I think the answer is ‘Yes,’” he said. “A lot of the focus will be on how things are evolving. It’ll be very much future-oriented. Legacy media with their problems remain a very important part of the picture as well.”
Mr. Rieder comes from a legacy media background, having worked at The Washington Post and The Philadelphia Inquirer in the 1980s. He observed the downsizing of newspapers in the 1990s and 2000s from the sidelines, having joined AJR in 1991. Back then, he joked, “there was no Twitter. It was kind of an ugly world.” It was also a time when newspapers, especially USA Today, were dominant. “Newspapers used to be incredibly profitable and they had these monopolies and thought this world would go on forever. It didn’t.”
But Mr. Rieder believes that legacy publications are finally embracing the idea of charging for digital content, and this switch is one of the most important media stories to cover. Among newspaper editors, he said, “there’s a sense of breaking past the gloom, understanding the new reality of the digital challenge. Rather than ‘oh my god, we’re going to die,’ the sense is, ‘maybe there are opportunities here.’”
For Mr. Rieder, there certainly seems to be opportunity at USA Today.