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Gone are the days when news organizations had just copy editors and page designers. Today, there are newsroom titles like digital optimizer, audience analyst and executive mobile editor. As social media platforms have evolved so have job titles, along with the tools journalists use to communicate with audiences. In this series, RJI will learn more about these titles and the people who hold them.

This Q&A was edited for space and clarity.

Sarah Day OwenSarah Day Owen has been the consumer experience director at The Desert Sun in Palm Springs, California, for more than a year. Owen’s job is to help the news organization think about the customer first when creating and sharing their news products.  

Was this a new job title for The Desert Sun or an update to an existing job title?

This was a new job title for The Desert Sun and was part of the Newsroom of the Future job descriptions with Gannett, now USA Today Network.

What inspired its creation?

As part of the Newsroom of the Future rethinking of our USA Today Network newsrooms, the company took a hard look at job titles and roles and worked to re-craft titles and roles to better meet the needs of a digital-first news operation. Consumer experience directors, though it sounds like a cruise director title, think about our products across platforms with the consumer at top of mind. The idea is to deliver the best possible experience. That can mean anything from redefining what our print report contains to making sure we are fully engaging on social media to helping plan real-life engagement opportunities in the community.

What are your responsibilities as a consumer experience director?

The consumer experience director looks at the big picture of all the ways audiences would experience our journalism. That includes all platforms, analytics, events and engagement.

I strategize with our team on ways to connect our meaningful journalism with its intended audiences: those most affected by the subject of the piece of journalism. I also collaborate with the team on strategies to convert target audiences — from a serendipitous read or experience to preferential source of news to an engaged subscriber.

I look at how things are working, try to set workflows and remove barriers for journalists to reach our goals, or try something new and innovative, such as our water and energy newsletter, The Current. I also oversee training and regularly liaise with other departments on monetization strategies and cross-departmental initiatives.

I noticed on your LinkedIn profile your job responsibilities include helping with strategic partnerships. What is an example of a partnership you’ve helped with and what was your role in that partnership?

Sometimes it’s identifying good opportunities like reporters as panelists at existing events, such as a water agency candidate forum that a neighborhood group had organized, or a city government candidate town hall that the city had organized. Sometimes it’s larger partnerships, like our ongoing partnership for Coachella Valley Storytellers Project with UC Riverside-Palm Desert’s graduate school for creative writing and writing for the performing arts. Live storytelling was something both parties wanted to pursue, and it’s a much stronger project by working together. As we’re pursuing more experiential journalism events, partnerships could also include venues or organizations.

What prepared you for this position?

Before I was the CED here, I was the editor of a creative-focused website and free weekly publication, Juice, which was produced by The Des Moines Register and was targeted at young professionals. Being in that role for nearly three years, I had a small team that was able to innovate quickly and wanted to try new things, whether that was augmented reality or events. In taking Juice from a primarily print-first weekly product to a digital organization, it gave me experience with change management with staff. It was at that point that I was really able to get the team involved with using metrics to effectively shape content strategy. Being the editor, I saw the big picture of all the moving parts. Being a social media editor in 2010 also prepared me to evangelize in the newsroom for new initiatives and communicate a vision.

What do you enjoy most about what you do as the consumer experience director?

I like trying new things and seeing what works. I’m passionate about what my co-workers do, and there’s no better feeling than knowing that our journalism is connecting with people. Journalism should build better communities, whether that’s holding government accountable, sharing information relevant for their lives or fostering empathy between people.

In your opinion, what is the consumer experience director’s biggest challenge or hardest problem to solve?

It’s an exciting time to be in journalism, and it’s a challenging time. We have more tools than ever to understand what people are interested in. All journalists are figuring out how to best serve our communities while technology is evolving — rapidly. My biggest challenge is a shared one: figuring out a sustainable future for journalism.

Who does this position report to?

The executive editor. I’m at the helm whenever he’s out of pocket.

Jennifer Nelson  
Senior Information Specialist


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