- Ashley Alexander
On June 27, Star Tribune Media Co. announced Derek Simmons as the company’s new chief creative officer to lead development of innovative print and digital solutions that showcase The Star Tribune’s acclaimed journalism.
You’ve worked for the Star Tribune for over ten years – what does an organization like this mean to you? What makes you want to stay?
This is my second stint with the Star Tribune. I was here from 1998 to 2007 in various roles, and then at the Los Angeles Times until late 2013. Only a few scenarios would have pulled me out of California, and one of them was the opportunity to run the visuals department for an organization like the Star Tribune. It’s a great company with fantastic people, and I had a solid history from working there. When I left the Star Tribune in 2007, it was the right time to try something different. In 2013 it was the right time to come back. We have one of the best publishers and one of the best editors. Many great things have happened, and I’m very proud to be part of this organization. We continue to build something very special here. If we could do something about the winters, it would be perfect.
What are you excited about while moving into this position?
I’m excited to work with folks inside and outside the newsroom in finding unique ways to showcase and distribute our great content. Innovation and creativity are best as team sports, so I’m looking forward to collaborating with my colleagues on all the opportunities and challenges ahead. This promotion formalizes work I was already doing to some extent, and doing that creates a little more publicity and pressure. But that’s a healthy thing.
What can you tell us about your plans in this newly formed position?
Check back with me in six months! The plan right now is to explore and learn more about how our company operates and what challenges need tackling in the short term. I’ve worked in newsrooms for 25 years, so my singular focus has been on storytelling and visual journalism as it pertains to newsroom folks like reporters, editors, designers, photographers, etc. Part of my challenge now is to come at storytelling and journalism from different perspectives and to apply our newsroom’s visual philosophy and aesthetic to our entire company.
What is your proudest achievement within the news media industry?
I’ve been very fortunate in my career to work with some of the best in this business, and those relationships have led to many great wins. My proudest achievement: Three consecutive years of Top 10 finishes in the world at the Society for News Design’s Creative Competition. When we did it in 2015, it was a first for our company. To do it again in 2016 and 2017 was a real mind blower and puts us alongside some of our most respected peers like the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and The Washington Post. And it shows how committed we are as a company when it comes to visual journalism and storytelling.
How have you seen the news industry evolve?
It would be quicker to list ways it hasn’t evolved. The saying, “The one constant is change” has been our mantra for the last decade. In many ways, it’s made us better. It’s certainly made us more nimble. But it’s also made us take a few steps backward in terms of deep cuts in staffing, print space and so on. At the Future of Newspapers conference earlier this year, Jeff Bezos said, “You can’t shrink your way to profitability.” He’s right. Having deep pockets helps prove that point, and certainly, a lot of folks can’t afford to take that stance. I think we’re getting smarter about not just doing less, but picking our spots a little better. Doing less in some areas in order to more where it counts.
Where do you see the future of news media?
Just a few years ago, mobile technology was a distant spectator in the game of content delivery and consumption. Now it is a major player. So the future is happening quickly. Things like wearable tech and voice-activated assistants are exciting when it comes to storytelling. It will be great to dive into that more at some point. Virtual/augmented reality is also making huge gains and will look much different two years from now.
Print will probably look a lot different a few years from now. At the same time, I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon. I can actually imagine a time when it will be seen as a luxury item or status symbol. It may cost more and maybe you can only get it on Sundays. It will be curated and delivered especially for you, and it’s your escape from technology. It’s tangible, highly personal and doesn’t come with constant notifications, distractions or interruptions. Think pieces, analysis, opinion and long-form narratives I hope will always find a home of some sort in print. And with those will come great visuals.