Dorothy Robinson was previously managing editor at Metro. Credit: Carly Abbott
Dorothy Robinson has been named the new editor-in-chief of Metro newspapers. She has been with the company for 10 years, helping to launch the New York paper as an editorial assistant in 2004 and served as Philadelphia features editor, deputy U.S. features editor and managing editor before her current role.
She is also adept at writing in the third person, which she is currently doing in this introduction. Here, she talks with Metro's features editor, Pat Healy, who was nice enough to interview her about the new gig.
This year marks your 10-year anniversary with Metro. Being named editor-in-chief certainly seems a fitting way to celebrate.
Indeed! If you would have told me 10 years ago a working mother would one day be the head of Metro US, I wouldn't have believed you. And if you would have told me that that working mother was me, I definitely would think you were insane. Or from the future. Which is where you would have been from.
What was Metro like 10 years ago? Why would it have been so far-fetched for a working mom to be EIC?
Tricky question. Don't get me in trouble so soon into the interview, Pat. But I would have said it was definitely a male-dominated culture (before Maggie Samways rose through the ranks before me; she is now the global editor of Metro World News). We also dealt exclusively in print, and now we have the print paper and our digital brand, which is where you are reading this interview. Metro is a great place to work for in that we promote from within; with all of our editions, sections, editors, freelancers, operation systems, it makes the most sense. I guess I never thought I would have been here for 10 years — most of my 20s, my beautiful youth! — but with the exception of a few bad spots, I've always enjoyed working here and writing and editing.
Also, the working mom thing is strange. When you have a baby, you feel like you might be un-promotable, but that really isn't the case. I would like to thank our CEO, Yggers Mortensen, for being open to the idea. Wait. Not open. It was like it didn't even matter, which is the way it should be, you know? In actuality, I think being a working mom has made me a better employee and worker. I complain a lot less; I am much more focused. I need to come in, do my job and attempt to do it well. I do have to leave every day around 5 p.m. to get my 20-month-old, which I know is rough on the staff.
Going back to the whole notion of being from the future, if you, the 2014 Editor-in-Chief Dorothy Robinson, got a chance to meet the 2004 Editorial Assistant Dorothy Robinson, what would you tell her?
Um, stay in one place for a super long time and you'll eventually rise to the top? Kidding. It's hard to answer because no matter what, you probably wonder "what if" regarding certain job opportunities not taken, but I would probably say to have patience (everyone in their 20s is so impatient), and that taking on additional responsibilities and working hard is a great call. In my time here, I’ve overseen so many sections: Careers and Education, Books, Parenting, Personal Finance, Going Out, Travel, Philadelphia local entertainment and my column, The Word, at one time or another. I’m glad I worked hard in my 20s to pave my way in my 30s.
Last year, a lot of senior editorial members moved on, and Tony Metcalf (our former EIC) asked me to think about becoming his No.2, the managing editor. I almost didn't take it because I worried it would cut into the time with my son and my family. But then, it sounds so much like a cliche, but "Lean In" came out right when I was going back and forth with my husband about it, and I just decided to go for it. It’s very important to take every opportunity that comes your way. And then when Tony got sick and passed away so suddenly last year, I honestly didn't think I was ready to be EIC. But after stepping into the role strictly out of necessity, I learned I could do it and that I should campaign for it. And so I did.
Oh, I would also tell 2004 Editorial Assistant Dorothy that she should really, really campaign to make www.metro.us be solely composed of listicles, say, around the year 2007.
Last year was a challenging time for the company. What do you anticipate the greatest challenge will be for a newspaper like Metro?
If we could get through last year, I think we can face most anything. But I guess figuring out ways to make us stand out in an already crowded marketplace. Fortunately, our numbers help. In 2012, we had 5,937,164 unique visitors and in 2013, we had 7,003,176 unique visitors on our website. For print, we are reaching 1.2 million daily readers in our editions in New York, Philadelphia and Boston. All this with an editorial staff of around 30 for our three editions and online. So, you know, nothing to sneeze at. We already have a sound footing, people know our brand — how do we take it to the next level?
What kind of change are you looking to bring to the company in this role? What do you want your legacy to be? Sundaes on Sunday? Moonshine Monday?
First and foremost, I hope the staff is happy to work here. Journalism is brutal — it's long hours and little pay, and if you don't like where you are working it can be soul crushing. That being said, I always say that Metro does a lot with a little. It is my hope that one day in the near future, we do a whole lot with more. We have so many talented staffers who create a lot of really top-notch content; how can we maximize that and get more eyes on their work? We are on a great upward climb with the website; I see no reason why www.metro.us won't become a top destination for information.
It's strange to think of legacy. I'm 34. But I guess I would hope that years down the line, if a former co-worker saw me in a bar, they would be pleased and would say "hi" instead of running away. Also, as a feminist, I would hope that the younger women in the office would see that it's possible to have a family and a career, that you don't necessarily have to drop out of the workforce when you procreate. By the way, it's weird that I'm bringing up the "working mom" thing in this interview but it's very new to me and I'm continuing to work it out in my brain/life. Oh, and I did just bring up the idea of Yoga Thursdays in the news meeting just now and people seemed game, although it will be awkward as hell.
Are you concerned about what the public will think when they see that the person who has earned her living by writing jokes about Justin Bieber and assorted Kardashians every day will now be responsible for the paper's editorial direction?
I'm not worried. I think it's great that someone from a features background is overseeing things. And just because I wrote funny stuff about Justin Bieber doesn't mean I'm not smart or care about news or won't be a good manager. I always liked doing The Word because it was a great way to connect to our readers, which is what I care about.
What have you especially liked about working at Metro?
For the past few years, I've really liked our collaborations, especially with Metro Canada and serializing a Douglas Coupland novella both in print and online. My other favorite thing recently was working with former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, when we ran his "original" poem in the paper in our Poem in Your Pocket partnership. My favorite Metro anecdote about working here is this: One time I was walking down the street in Philly and this homeless woman started screaming at me and my husband. I got nervous and was about to cross the street when she goes, "Hey! Do you write The Word?" And I sheepishly said yes, and she broke into a huge grin and goes, "What do you know! You are so funny!" And then later that day I got an email from a reader in Boston who was a student at Harvard. This really illustrates Metro's reach and how we can create an entertaining, readable paper for all kinds of different people. I also love partaking in self-indulgent and self-promoting interviews about myself. Oh, and working with the staff. We have a great one, don't you agree, Pat?
What was that sound? Was that a twinkling sound made by the light hitting your smile?
Yes. Can we stop this now? We need to get back to work to get out the tiny news.