In classic journalism-related movies, like His Girl Friday and All the President’s Men, there’s always an editor barking out orders to reporters, making sure they get the daily scoops and hit their deadlines.
Times have changed since those movies were released and many of the newsroom practices shown in those films have fallen out of favor. But what has not changed is the need to keep reporters sharp, on their toes and getting the latest news in a timely manner.
For the past 20 years, Lance Turner has been doing exactly that, working at the forefront of Arkansas’ business media landscape as the online editor of Arkansas Business. In this role, he headed up the publication’s daily news reporting. Now, Turner is shifting his sights to Arkansas Business’ flagship weekly publication, as he moves into the editor’s seat.
On Monday, June 7, Arkansas Business Publishing Group (ABPG) president Mitch Bettis announced that Turner would be succeeding longtime editor Gwen Moritz, who signaled that she would be stepping down earlier in 2021. Moritz will be staying with ABPG, working on other projects.
His new role represents the latest challenge and opportunity that Turner has had at ABPG. Turner has been with Arkansas Business since 1999, joining straight out of college at Arkansas State University. By December of that year, Turner stepped up into the online editor role for Arkansas Business’ new website.
Arkansas Money & Politics talked with Turner, via email, about his new role, business journalism in Arkansas and the future of Arkansas Business.
AMP: What does it mean for you moving up to the editor’s position?
LT: I’ll have the privilege of working more closely with our print editorial staff and our print designers, which is exciting. It’ll mean a new rhythm for me personally — I’ve been focused on daily online news for so long that I look forward to the weekly schedule of the print edition. And I’m excited about having a hand in those bigger, more in-depth print stories that you can’t always develop amid the daily, sometimes hourly demands of online.
AMP: What are you looking forward to accomplishing as the new Arkansas Business editor?
LT: The first thing is to not mess it up! I’m really concentrating on learning that weekly rhythm and all the fundamental things that go into creating a first-class print publication. I’ve not edited a print edition since my senior year as editor of The Herald at Arkansas State University in 1999! I probably shouldn’t say that out loud.
AMP: When did you find out that you would be the next editor? What was your reaction?
LT: Mitch and I have regular conversations, so we’ve been discussing the possibility of the editor’s role for a long time, and of course those discussions picked up when Gwen decided she wanted this year to be her final year. Mitch went through his national search this spring and I was part of that. We had a final two-hour meeting on May 14 and he offered it to me then. I took the weekend to talk it over with my wife and family and accepted the following Monday.
It feels great! Some of it is having the matter finally settled — there’s some relief in that. And I’m looking forward to working with the editorial staff in a new way, and working with our print design staff, which I’ve never really done before because I’ve been online for so long.
AMP: How did being the ArkansasBusiness.com online editor prepare you for your new role?
LT: The audiences for Arkansas Business print and online are fairly similar, so I think I know our audience pretty well. And of course we’ve seen online analytics for two decades — what stories move readers and what stories don’t — and we also hear directly from readers. But the audience is the No. 1 thing we think about — who they are, what they want, what they need — along with concentrating on things that no one else is doing and what we think we can do especially well.
Those are our guiding lights in print and online. So for me, that piece of the editor puzzle is already in place, for the most part.
But I’ve also had the privilege of sitting in the same newsroom and working side-by-side with that staff for 20 years. Gwen, Jan Cottingham and I are right next to each other. We all write. We all edit copy. We all assign stories. We’re in weekly planning meetings together. I’ve been able to see the process up close. That’s priceless.
AMP: How will Arkansas Business’ print and digital platforms work together under your editorship?
LT: We work together pretty well already, but I’d certainly like to find new ways to make print and online even better for our niche audience. Print is still very effective and drives so much of what we do — we’re at an all-time high for paid subscribers, which goes against what other parts of the news industry are seeing. But the possibilities that play out online are endlessly fascinating to me, so we’ll always seek opportunities there.
AMP: What role do print and digital both have to play in a constantly evolving media landscape?
LT:I think to us, print and digital are the tools to connect readers with meaningful content — news, data, insights — and other people in the Arkansas business community. We don’t exist to put out a daily e-newsletter, or a weekly print edition, or a website, or a series of live events — we exist to provide meaningful content for our business audience that they can’t get anywhere else. Those delivery mechanisms aren’t ends unto themselves, they’re simply the tools we use. And the thing to understand is that the tools will change but the mission won’t.
AMP: How has the Arkansas business media landscape changed during your career? What impact do you hope to have on it moving forward?
LT: The change has been unbelievable. Think about your media diet in 1999 — the stuff you watched and read and listened to and how you accessed it — versus today. It’s unimaginable. We’ve gone from a print-centric media culture to one entirely online, driven by social media, which wasn’t even a thing when I started at Arkansas Business in May 1999.
9/11 put breaking news online — it really showed the value of a robust online news operation. The iPhone revolutionized everything in 2007 — it was a watershed. Facebook and Twitter made irrelevant the gatekeepers of traditional media — and gatekeepers almost everywhere, really. YouTube is a behemoth, and streaming media will completely upend cable and broadcast. General circulation newspapers are hanging by a thread — most are a shell of what they were. We’re really remaking our entire media ecosystem. It’s thrilling and frightening in equal measure.
One weird side note to that is email. I’m pretty sure Arkansas Business was the first in the state with a daily news e-newsletter in December 2000. Twenty years later, it remains a cornerstone of our strategy, and everyone is doing their own newsletters! I thought email would be dead by now. Who knows about these things?
In terms of impact, I want Arkansas Business to continue to do good work for its readers. That means breaking news and delivering meaningful content and experiences they can’t get anywhere else. Gwen Moritz and our entire staff have a great record of doing those things and I want to keep that going.
Photo by Jacob Slaton, courtesy of Lance Turner.