Susan Smith Richardson, the new editor and publisher of The Chicago Reporter, joins us to talk about her role, changes to the publication, and adapting to the digital age.
For 40 years, The Chicago Reporter has been known for its commitment to investigating race and poverty. Now with a new and very experienced editor and publisher, the magazine is taking strides towards repositioning itself as a digital platform. Susan Smith Richardson has a reputation of doing great journalism and being digitally savvy, and now she’s bringing that to The Chicago Reporter.
We spoke with Laura Washington, a Chicago Sun-Times columnist who also served as the interim editor and publisher for The Chicago Reporter, about why Richardson was best for the role and what she expects to see from the Reporter in the future.
When conducting the search for the new editor/publisher for The Chicago Reporter, what were some of the skills that the publication was looking for?
This was an unusual search, in that we almost always promote from within. There was only one other time where we hired someone from outside the publication. This time around, there was no one inside that had what we were looking for.
We wanted someone who had senior level editing experience in several different places; someone who understands investigative reporting, race and poverty; and someone who understands the city and its history.
There’s also fundraising, being creative, and bringing in new revenue. We needed someone who had that kind of experience and thoughtfulness.
What was it about Susan Smith Richardson that set her apart from other candidates?
Her foundation experience really set her apart. She’s a true public intellectual. She’s thoughtful about concepts, issues and ideas around race and poverty. There are a lot of people who know how to do great journalism but not a lot who studied academic ideas and concepts. She has, and she has a large network of folks who are doing research as well.
She has teaching experience too. Like at the Chicago Tribune, Harvard and in Texas. At the Chicago Tribune, they said she was a teaching editor, and The Chicago Reporter is a teaching ground for young journalists.
Since you served as the interim publisher, was there any advice that you gave Richardson prior to her starting?
Well, she gives me great advice because she’s a sharp person. However, just have a willingness to blow up the place and get past the same old, same old and think creatively. Do race and poverty differently. Take a hold of the digital work and get The Chicago Reporter out to a larger audience. The direction that journalism is going in now will allow for that. The selection board also encouraged her to think big and think outside the box.
What do you believe makes The Chicago Reporter so unique from other publications?
No other publication focuses on race and poverty, and uses investigative reporting as a way to do it. But to do it consistently day in and day out through investigative reporting is unique. We’re very small. We’re not commercial and we do not have advertising. To strive for 40 years, displays not only our success but that no one is doing it like we do. Our work has changed laws, created new programs and has had an impact on people’s lives. That’s what investigative journalism should be doing.
What hopes do you have for the future of The Chicago Reporter?
I’d like to see The Chicago Reporter develop a strong national profile. It’s known in the journalism field and people who are informed about race and poverty, now I hope we can expand its reach to other cities. We have even thought to develop The Chicago Reporter in other cities. I would love to see the Reporter known in Washington D.C., Cleveland and be known as a brand on a national level. I think Susan has some ideas in place to take the Reporter in that direction, and it’s very exciting.
Interview has been condensed and edited.
Watch a video of Smith talking about her new position at The Chicago Reporter:
Courtesy of The Chicago Reporter