May 14, 2009
/ by Anna Marevska
It is the era of the shrinking newsroom with layoffs, closings and cutbacks plaguing the nation’s newspapers.
The Los Angeles Times has been especially hard hit, and for Susan Denley moving back into the newsroom as the paper’s new associate features editor, is certainly exciting.
“What’s most fun about my [new] job is being able to deal with such a great range of interesting topics,” she explained. “Every day I get to explore something new, and in the company of terrific writers, editors, photographers and artists.”
Denley started her duties in April 2009 and has much different responsibilities than her previous position as the hiring and developmental editor. She works with editors responsible for several areas of coverage, including the weekly food, travel, home, image and health sections, as well as the book reviews and science.
“While shaping the newsroom staff was truly rewarding for a long time, I was eager to return to shaping coverage in a more immediate way, by working with writers on their ideas,” she said. “I love the opportunity to examine new subjects and tell readers about them.”
In addition to assisting in identifying and editing potential A-1 stories, she continues to coordinate staff development programs and also serves as a special advisor to the editor of the Times, Russ Stanton. Denley explained that “learning the curb” and “the process” of the different sections within the features department is the more challenging aspect of her new position.
“There are a lot of moving parts [at the moment],” she added. “So at this early point I am taking time to assess by learning how all sections operate and providing editing support and counsel to the editors.”
Supporting and counseling editorial staff have long been a part of Denley’s career at the Los Angeles Times. For the last 15 years, she served as the editorial hiring and developmental editor in charge of staffing and professional development. During her tenure Denley organized various staff development programs, launched a national award-winning student journalism program, built up the Metro training program, and helped develop the Times’ multimedia training program.
Denley started her journalism career as a features writer for a daily and over the subsequent years went back and forth between hard news and features as a reporter, editor and section head. She joined the Los Angeles Times in 1988 as an assistant editor of the old Westside suburban section. A year later she became deputy to the suburban editor and in 1993 was named hiring and development editor. Before joining the Times, she worked for the Orange County Register, the St. Petersburg Times and the Tampa Times.
“At various times, my portfolio has ranged from government, politics and investigation to debutante balls, lifestyle features, and home decorating columns,” she said. “I am drawn to the topics the feature sections [at the Times] cover; because they all relate directly to the way people live their lives.”
And after 21 years at the newspaper, there is no other place she would rather be.
“The Los Angeles Times is one of the premier newspapers in the country,” she said. “There is not a whole lot of reason to want to go somewhere else.”
Denley strongly advises PR professionals to be familiar with the each section of the feature well.
“Each of the sections has a distinct mission and separate staff,” she explained. “Food contains both restaurant reviews and recipes our experts develop. We are one of the few newspapers that has a test kitchen and trained chefs on staff. We also write quite a bit about wine since California has a vibrant wine industry.”
The Travel section covers a mixture of domestic and foreign travel with an emphasis on the West. They have a full-time travel writers based in Europe, therefore oversees travel pitches are welcome.
She adds, “The Home section does a mix of real estate news, home decorating and gardening. We have a feature that tests “green” products and another that reviews technology for the home.”
The Health section covers trends in healthcare, nutrition and fitness; and the Image section is where you’ll find stories about clothing, makeup, shopping and style.
All PR professionals should be aware that the one thing that doesn’t come under the Features Department umbrella is entertainment coverage. It is handled separately by the staff of the Times’ Calendar sections.
“I am not the right person to pitch on stories that have to do with movies, television, theater, arts or celebrities,” Denley explained.
If you have stories to pitch, it is really best to pitch to the individual section editors, all listed on latimes.com in the Media Center section. She adds, “If you pitch to me, I prefer e-mail. I am most likely to be interested when the pitch is specifically (exclusively) for the Los Angeles Times. Something you’re sending to every editor in the country won’t appeal to me much!”
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