It doesn’t take long to understand why Luke Kerr-Dineen is where he is. Talk to him for 10 minutes and it’s clear that Luke, one of the News Media Alliance’s 2017 Rising Stars, wears the title well. Sports fans surely know him as one of the preeminent voices behind For The Win (FTW), USA TODAY’s wildly successful sports-centered vertical. Luke’s official title is Senior Social News Editor, but as he’ll tell you, his job responsibilities reach far beyond that.
“My first and primary job is overseeing FTW Golf,” he said. “I make sure that the vertical is kind of filled out with news that FTW focuses on – loose, casual fun.”
“I then do a lot of assignment editing. I also work on both sides of camera, whether it’s Facebook Lives, scripted video, filming, or with an audience.”
If that seems like a lot, it’s because, well, it is. It’s also exactly the type of utility belt that’s required from someone working in digital sports media today. Knowing the challenges behind having to pivot on a moment’s notice is one of the industries newest occupational hazards.
“What gets me going, though, is digital media,” he said. “I love figuring out why people like content and why ideas fly through the social web – that’s what drives me the most.
“It’s the most challenging aspect of my job, and also my favorite. You’re not trying to not keep up, but push ahead. How can we tweak something to work even better? It’s a fun challenge.”
Luke’s path to FTW took him from England, his homeland, to University of South Carolina, where he played on the Golf team. After that, there were internships at USA TODAY and the Daily Beast, and then to the Columbia School of Journalism. Right out of school, he was recruited by Golf Digest to overhaul their digital vertical, and his two years of work there caught FTW’s eye.
“The thing that drew me to FTW is that it is such an exciting brand,” he said. “Everything it does has an emotional core to it. People want stories – [stories] speak to them, inspire them, improve their life in some way.”
“Ever-changing landscape” is the phrase that you’ll hear in any digital media TED-talk, but there’s some truth to it: it pays – quite literally – to be versatile.
“To me, when people naysay [about the future of journalism] they don’t understand the industry,” he said. “They’re mournful of what the industry is changing from. This isn’t the 70’s, when the model was simple and clear. The internet 10 years ago was different than it is today and will be totally different 10 years from now. The key is being open-minded, adaptable and inquisitive. This is a cutting-edge industry that doesn’t stay the same, doesn’t become complacent. It’s not a bad thing, but something to be aware of.”
“The model of the future is an overriding brand that’s providing different kinds of content in different ways.”
It wouldn’t be a profile without the “what-would-you-tell-young-people” question, and his response says all you need to know about the rising star.
“It’s not an industry where you can tell someone to learn specific programs,” he said. “I think outside of being hardworking – which of course is a given – the most important quality is being open-minded, data-driven and creative.
“It’s all critical thinking and problem solving skills. Technology changes all the time, and you need these qualities to crack the code. The internet moves too fast – seeing the roadmap is very important, but you have to be very aware of the right now. Try to land the jabs the same way you land the haymakers. You can’t neglect either of them; otherwise, you’re going to miss out.”
By Cam Ellis, Special to the News Media Alliance