Patience, Hard Work Led to Success at Design Center

A mural seems to peek over LaToya Smith's shoulder at SND.
A mural seems to peek over LaToya Smith’s shoulder at SND. Photo by Joe Grimm

By Joe Grimm

Hard work and perspective have transformed Latoya Smith’s journalism career.

Today, at 32, she is deputy editor, national content/client relations for Tribune Company’s Media on Demand.

Ten years ago, Smith was impatient to move ahead at the Chicago Tribune, where she felt buried under lots of people with more seniority and skills.

Tribune Company has undergone many changes in the past decade, and Smith has been through a reinvention of her own. As it turned out, every one of her jobs helped to prepare her to be the editor she is today.

She talked about her development on Oct. 1 in St. Louis at the Society for News Design’s 33rd annual conference.

“I think then I was in a major rush at age 23,” Smith said. “I was lost. I went in as a resident and figured I would do two years there. … I wanted to go places and figured there was a newspaper wherever you went.”

Smith said she was offered a permanent position after a year and a half. She stayed, but there was no quick promotion. Instead, there were sideways moves, new technology and wrenching changes in the company and the newspaper industry. Though she didn’t see it at first, those experiences became her finishing school.

Smith started on news design, working pages that were zoned eight ways and required a lot of churning. When she moved to features design in 2006, the production rate slowed considerably, but she then had to learn all the depth required to compose a good features page. That could mean conceptualization, working with photographers and designers, and hiring models. It also meant being at the photo shoots.

She said that a designer might work all week to get a single section front right and that this is where she really learned design. When newspapers started constricting and she was asked to pick up the pace, she was ready.

When the Tribune installed its CCI NewsGate production and content management system, “I learned that really, really well,” Smith said. “I was not trained as a superuser, but I was always very curious about it and took it upon myself to learn the ins and outs.”

Experienced with NewsGate, Macintosh and personal computers, Smith became a go-to person for other designers and for editors, most of whom worked on PCs. Page elements were designed on Macintosh computers and then brought into NewsGate for completed pages or modules on pages. A trainer and troubleshooter Smith began to acquire managerial experience.

“I found myself working longer hours, and I found that I really liked working with people instead of just sitting in front of my computer,” she said.

When Tribune Company began centralizing features, moving work to Chicago from papers in Newport News, Va., and then Hartford, Conn., the features designer who could move fast, work with people and knew technology was a logical choice.

At SND, Smith spoke on a panel about centralized design in Tribune Company, holding her own alongside editors from Scripps, Hearst and Gannett.

She said after her panel, “As much as I was in a rush to move up and do all sorts of fun things, I wasn’t ready to do that. So I just spent a lot of time learning, listening to other people and creating mentoring opportunities for myself.”

An editor at a major metro by 30, the once-frustrated Smith discussed her progress with a friend, who had left journalism to become a lawyer.

“You’re an editor,” the friend marveled.

“I know. Who would have thunk it?” Smith joked.

Joe Grimm, a consultant and adjunct faculty member of the Freedom Forum Diversity Institute, recruited for the Detroit Free Press, Knight Ridder and Gannett from 1990 until 2008. He now teaches at the Michigan State University School of Journalism. He has run the JobsPage journalism careers site at www.jobspage.com since 1996. Questions about careers? E-mail Joe for an answer.

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