January 25, 2016

Wiley aims to preserve CT's Fourth Estate

HBJ PHOTO | John Stearns
HBJ PHOTO | John Stearns
Tom Wiley is seen in his office next to a photo of a 1989 Porsche 911 Turbo he once owned and wishes he hadn't sold.

Tom Wiley

President and CEO, Hartford Courant Media Group

Highest education: Bachelor's degree in advertising, Michigan State University, 1992.

Executive insights:

"We don't have any audience if we don't have any journalists, and we don't have any sales if we don't have any salespeople. The rest of the organization is really built around fulfilling the needs of those groups and removing the obstacles for them."

President and CEO, Hartford Courant Media Group

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The new publisher and CEO of the Hartford Courant Media Group is an adept media sales executive, staunch defender of journalism as the fourth estate and fan of fast cars.

After high school, Tom Wiley spent three years racing and repairing Formula F2000 cars before his team lost its sponsorship.

"I decided I was going to figure out promotions and sponsorship and advertising, so when I went back to school, that's why I went into advertising," Wiley said.

After graduating from Michigan State University and landing a newspaper sales job in Lansing, Mich., his boss learned his love for cars and had him sell to auto dealers. It didn't seem like work for an admitted "gear head."

Management is about people

Wiley, 47, tells that story to make a point: "I think management is not about systems and it's not about policies, it's about people. We manage people. … My first manger put me into selling car ads because he found out I was a car guy."

Wiley rose through newspaper ranks to lead sales departments at local and corporate levels and be publisher. He worked in Lansing; Buffalo, N.Y.; Davenport, Iowa; St. Louis; and finally New Haven, where he was publisher of Digital First Media's (DFM) Connecticut publications, including the New Haven Register. Later he became executive vice president of sales for all DFM properties in 18 states. He joined the Courant earlier this month.

He was New Haven's publisher during the Sandy Hook school massacre in Newtown.

"It gives you perspective on the importance of what we do," he said, adding no one else does the journalistic work newspapers and other traditional media outlets do. "If the newspaper industry doesn't do it, it's largely gone."

He commended Connecticut Public Broadcasting's work, but said journalism and the Fourth Estate exist on the watch of newspapers like the Courant.

Nobody reads newspapers?

Wiley said his leadership style is focused on improving front-line journalism and sales capabilities and how the business serves those groups, building on staff's existing skills.

That includes using digital tools to help tell stories, evaluating coverage opportunities and where to go deep on stories, and providing more local perspective on regional and national stories, Wiley said.

"On the sales side, it's about developing [salespeople's] skill sets so that they're selling the advertisers what they want to buy and they're able to understand and communicate and evangelize the incredibly valuable audiences that we deliver, and frankly counter the sort of common knowledge that nobody reads the newspaper anymore," he said.

"We have an 89 percent reach across our product suite," he said, referencing the newspaper, courant.com and other products. "Yet we apologize and we hang our heads … like it ain't what it used to be, but it's actually greater than it used to be — it's just much, much, much more complex."

Renaissance man

Matt DeRienzo, who was editor at the New Haven Register under Wiley, praised his former boss, calling him a renaissance man in terms of appreciating good journalism.

"He gave us the leeway to do it right and to think about the long-term health of the newspaper and, really important, he supported the independence of the newsroom and following journalistic ethics as it related to interaction with advertisers and the company," said DeRienzo, now interim executive director of LION Publishers, which represents independent online news sites, and a journalism teacher at Quinnipiac University and University of New Haven.

On the business side, Wiley was innovative, DeRienzo said.

Wiley also demonstrated creativity at Lee Enterprises in Davenport when he helped develop an audience-based selling system that calculated target rating points against frequency schedules in print, which wasn't common in print but proved successful, he said. The system later translated nicely into selling digital, he added.

One regret

Wiley and his wife, Julie, live in Cheshire and have two girls, Miura, 16, and Sela, 14, and a boy, Cullen, 12. Their sports schedules often require mom in one city, dad in another.

When not enjoying family, Wiley still likes hitting the gas, taking his Porsche Cayman to a track to "drive fast in circles and giggle." He points to a photo of a 1989 Porsche 911 Turbo he owned and apparently relished.

"I never should have sold it," Wiley said.

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