Hearst Connecticut VP Matt DeRienzo talks online news, local versus corporate ownership

By Abi­gail Brone |  March 8, 2019

Matt DeRien­zo began work­ing as a jour­nal­ist the day after his eigh­teenth birthday.

I wrote a let­ter to the edi­tor of my local news­pa­per in Maine about a drunk dri­ver that hit and killed a friend of mine’s moth­er. I argued the bar that served the dri­ver should get its license tak­en away,” DeRien­zo said. “They wouldn’t print it, but offered me a job. I start­ed as a part-time reporter, nev­er wound up going back to col­lege, and here I am.”

DeRien­zo is the vice pres­i­dent of news and dig­i­tal con­tent for Hearst Media Group in Con­necti­cut, the com­pa­ny that owns the New Haven Reg­is­ter, Con­necti­cut Post, Stam­ford Advo­cate and The Nor­walk Hour.

DeRien­zo is the first vice pres­i­dent to con­trol both the news­room and dig­i­tal teams for Hearst’s news­pa­pers. He said the com­pa­ny is adapt­ing well to the online demands.

The switch from print to web or to dig­i­tal is not just a switch in pref­er­ence from paper to screen, but it’s a fun­da­men­tal rela­tion­ship shift between read­ers and the pub­li­ca­tion,” he said. “We need a rela­tion­ship of trans­paren­cy and trust.”

Along with over­see­ing Hearst’s eight dai­ly news­pa­pers and 13 week­lies, DeRien­zo said the most important—and some­times hard­est— part of his job is the weight of the deci­sions he has to make and those it affects.

The words we use mat­ter. What we choose to cov­er and not cov­er can real­ly affect people’s lives and com­mu­ni­ties. It can affect our own staff as well.”

It’s not an easy indus­try to work for in terms of buy­outs and lay­offs,” DeRien­zo said. “Deal­ing with the finan­cial com­plex­i­ties of the indus­try while com­ing into work every day and writ­ing about very dif­fi­cult top­ics, but also get­ting crit­i­cized about how you write.”

When it comes to the dif­fer­ence between work­ing for a pri­vate­ly-owned news­pa­per and a chain that owns hun­dreds of news out­lets across the coun­try, DeRien­zo said that hav­ing worked for both, there are pros and cons.

There are good cor­po­rate actors and there are bad,” he said. “Obvi­ous­ly, I think I work for a good one because I used to work for a bad one and left because of that.”

DeRien­zo said the con to work­ing in the cor­po­rate news world is the dis­con­nect from the com­mu­ni­ties in which he works. “I’m the top edi­tor for eight dailies and could­n’t be immersed in each of those com­mu­ni­ties,” he said. “The top deci­sion-mak­ing gets away from the Main Street grass­roots organizations.”

One of the pros to work­ing in a large news­room is the resources pro­vid­ed for each reporter and the lawyers to back the papers up on Free­dom of Infor­ma­tion requests or defend­ing them­selves in the wake of con­tro­ver­sial sto­ries, DeRien­zo said.

As the news­pa­per indus­try declines, there are some look­ing to prof­it off that decline, slash­ing news­room expens­es,” he said. “Hearst has a long his­to­ry and long future and isn’t sub­ject to the whims of the stock mar­ket. It has proven over many years its will­ing­ness to invest.”

Matt DeRien­zo on Twit­ter: @mattderienzo

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