New Top Editor For Burlington Free Press On His Hopes For The Paper

Sep 16, 2016

The Burlington Free Press has announced the hiring of Denis Finley, formerly the editor-in-chief of the Virginian-Pilot, as its new executive editor. Finley begins the job on Oct. 17.

The hire comes about a year after former executive editor Michael Townsend accepted a buyout from Gannett, the company that owns the Burlington Free Press.

Finley with spoke with VPR about his views on the newspaper industry and his hopes for the Burlington Free Press.

VPR: What caught your eye about this position at the Burlington Free Press?

Denis Finley: "I was talking to one of the VP’s of local news at Gannett, and this opening was mentioned to me. And I looked at the newspaper, I liked what I saw [and] heard a lot of good things about Burlington, [so] I decided, ‘Hey, I've been out of journalism for a little while, but I really miss it.’"

You've had quite the career in journalism. You started off as a photographer, you've been a news editor, managing editor and an editor-in-chief. What gets you excited about journalism? 

"The opportunity to do good work for a large group of people every single day. You just never know what you're going to run into on any given day and you have an opportunity to really do quality work that impacts a lot of lives every day. That's really what I love about journalism."

What are some of your goals as executive editor of the Burlington Free Press?

"Set the vision and direction for the newspaper [and] make sure that we are serving the community with fair, balanced [and] accurate news every single minute of the day. I was going to say every day but that's that's the old days.

"I'm in charge of the budget. Basically, being an executive editor is kind of like being a CEO of a company.  You have very broad goals and you work with a leadership team to accomplish the goals of the news organization."

The Burlington Free Press has not been immune to the troubles of the newspaper industry. The paper has seen cuts in staff there's been changes in format and layout in recent years. You said you left the newspaper industry because you needed a break from the painful cuts that were happening in the industry. How are you better prepared now to weather the storm?

"I think the worst of the cuts are over, I really do. There's only so much you can cut before you don't have a product anymore, and that's true with every newspaper in the country.

"It's not like I will never cut another expense. You always have to pay attention your bottom line, [but] I think every news organization including Gannett is in better position now to do good work and will not have to spend so much time on cutting expenses."

Do you think that people will be willing to pay for content?

"Yes I do, as long as we produce content that is relevant and valuable to the community. I think it's taken a while and [we’re] still working on it as an industry but we have to establish the value of the content that we produce.

"The business model has changed and we have to get a lot more of our revenue from subscribers. So if we produce a product of value to the community, I believe they will pay for it, because first of all, it's a bargain, [and] secondly, most news news organizations like the Burlington Free Press [are] hopefully providing information that they can't get anywhere else. That makes it a valuable commodity to them."

What are your plans for the Burlington Free Press?

"I don't really know yet. I’ve been reading the newspaper, but I still don't really know the community. Before you make changes you have to understand what's going on, so I have to understand everybody in the newsroom [and] I have to understand the community. Once I'm informed, we'll see what we can do."

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Michael Townsend's name.