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People Development Excellence
Trisha O'Connor
Vice President and Editor
The (Myrtle Beach) Sun News

Trisha O’Connor knows that life at a smaller newspaper can sometimes resemble a revolving door. But she embraces that reality and adds this goal: Everyone who comes in will make her newspaper better – and those who move on will have bettered themselves.

The constant churn would make veteran editors twitch, but O’Connor loves the challenge. She has positioned The Sun News as a learning port of entry into Knight Ridder.

“She hires for talent and potential,” said Publisher Gary Wortel. “She develops journalists and editors who lift our coverage, then finds new challenges for them or helps them move on to realize their career ambitions.”

The development of ambitious up-and-comers pays off for readers, too. The Sun News is one of three Knight Ridder newspapers to improve reader satisfaction in all categories in the most recent surveys. As a hands-on leader, O’Connor directed and edited a yearlong series about misuse of public funds that led to the indictment of the transit authority director and changes in the way volunteer boards and agencies do business. That series was a national APME finalist in the Freedom of Information Category.

“I’m building a staff of two different kinds of people,” O’Connor acknowledged. “In the editing ranks, I look for people who have experience and are looking for the opportunity to be more broadly involved across an entire newsroom. For other folks, this is either their first or second newspaper stop.”

Along with brains, everybody she hires must have attitude and integrity, she says. “I look at whether people ask me good questions when they’re interviewing; are they curious? I’m looking for people who own their own careers, and the quality of work they bring to show you. For writers, do they tell me stories? I’m also looking for people with deep self-awareness. I’ll ask them to tell me about the last time they made a mistake and what they learned.”

When interviewing a prospective employee, O’Connor almost always does the first interview by telephone. “For one thing, you don’t know how they dress, or what they look like,” she said. “Personal bias isn’t there. You just listen to what they’re telling you.”

And she keeps listening. “In the 31st minute of a conversation, people begin to reveal themselves in a way you can’t judge in the first 30 minutes.”

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