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Adam Gerik, one of E&P’s 25 Under 35, on being forward-thinking and growing mobile

We weren’t surprised when we found out Adam Gerik, Journal Star assistant managing editor-digital, was named one of Editor & Publisher’s “25 Under 35” last week. Gerik has been considered one of GateHouse Media’s digital-first newsroom leaders for several years now, and currently serves on our Digital Transformation Council’s steering committee.

In 2014, we asked Gerik how he drove up PJStar.com’s digital traffic by 20 percent. This time around, we had some questions about mobile and maintaining a consistently engaging digital presence.

GateHouseNewsroom.com (GHN): E&P recognized you as a “forward-thinking professional who will take readers to the next level.” In your own work, what does it mean to be forward-thinking? And how do you apply all that thinking into actionable steps?

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Image courtesy of PJStar.com

Adam Gerik (AG): We’re all being asked to be fortune tellers – and we’re terrifically bad at it. I think that “forward-thinking” is more about being willing to try something new, something that might fail. This is not a time to hold on to safety nets of “but we’ve always done it this way!”

I’ve learned a lot since I became a manager in 2012. My biggest lesson was really learning how change makes people feel – and that lesson is ongoing. A steady hand and calm gaze ahead not only works well for sea captains, but also seems to be a decent way to direct a newsroom. I’ve also been more and more appreciative of the ideas that come from other reporters and editors. Their ideas focus more on the average reader than mine.

GHN:  You have played a key role in growing PJStar.com’s mobile traffic to 60 percent of digital users from 40 percent in 2014. How does planning for mobile users differ from planning for desktop users?

AG: The Journal Star was strangely prescient back in 2007, launching a mobile website before even some of the big dogs. Trained early, our readers never left us. So when the bottom started to drop out on desktop traffic, mobile was ready to stanch the decline with strong growth.

While we have a long way to go, we have several reporters and editors who are beginning to experiment (on their own!) with “chunk-ifying” their usual 15-20 inch stories. That needs to be our mantra moving forward, along with getting more comfortable reacting and writing on incomplete information.

Great headlines are paramount on mobile!

GHN: What steps do you take to ensure that you are consistently publishing interesting and engaging content to your web platforms?

AG: Targeting specific platforms or attaching bells and whistles has little to do with whether content succeeds – it’s all about the topic. The same goes for what time of day we publish. We once subscribed to the rule that early is best for maximizing traffic potential, but we’re finding that our mobile users peak around 9 p.m. – which is exactly the time of day that once made us digital folks cringe. It all begins to feel like some sort of healthy living obsession, when we should adopt our own version of Michael Pollan’s “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Maybe “Share your community with others. In whatever way makes sense. And have fun.”

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GHN:  What are your plans for PJStar.com in 2016? Is there anything you’ll be focusing on in specific?

AG: We’re very excited to launch the new Garcia web template – and we have the strong mobile traffic ready to take advantage of the fully-responsive architecture. An enjoyable product goes a long way toward making a newsroom energized.

A reorganization of beats has just been finalized. It’ll give many reporters a chance to try something new after staying on one subject for as many as 15 years. We may have made missteps in the new arrangement, but I think we’re finally in a good mindset to make adjustments as we learn.

The sports department launched our first podcast, “The Sportswriters.” It’s a reboot of an old terrestrial radio show we once hosted and we’re giving it a shot as we move into March Madness.

We’ll continue to get more comfortable managing raw data and creating databases.

Illinois sincerely hopes that political reporter Chris Kaergard finally gets to shave his beard.

I’m probably forgetting a thousand great ideas, but rest assured that we’ll be busy. And I hope we have a lot of fun.

Michael Maness of the Knight Foundation once said “a lot of people are still mad at the Internet for existing.” Let’s make this quote feel as ridiculous as complaining about wonderful, dazzling electricity.

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