January 13, 2008

Smooth sailing

an interview with…

editor and co-founder
The Triton

Four years ago, Lucy Chabot Reed and her husband David decided to launch a monthly newspaper for yacht crews and captains. She’d handle the editorial, he’d handle the business, and they’d both work from home and raise their 18-month-old daughter.

What could possibly go wrong?

Turns out, very little.

The Triton’s first issue in April 2004 was 24 pages. These days, it averages 76. Late last year, the Reeds launched Tee Times, a monthly golf newspaper, and they hope to “acquire another title” this year, although they aren’t saying much more about it.

Last week, Reed hired her first employee – a managing editor – which marks the first time she’s been the boss of someone since she was editor at The Alligator, the student newspaper at the University of Florida.

Reed hopes her new employee will be happier than she was as a journalist. Reed didn’t enjoy her stints as a Sun-Sentinel city reporter (January 1993-August 1994) and a New Times Broward-Palm Beach staff writer (November 1997-June 1998), as you’ll see below.

She had a better time as an associate editor at the South Florida Business Journal from 1998 to 2003, but she she still wasn’t happy and tried freelancing before taking the plunge with The Triton. Now, she says, “I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life – professionally and personally.”

How was working at the Sun-Sentinel?

I could have been happy if I had felt challenged. I was sort of let loose to cover whatever I wanted within the city limits of Margate and North Lauderdale. And while that’s desirable later in one’s career, I was young and wanted to be pushed, not left alone. I had no mortgage or partner. I would have worked 24/7 with some encouragement. Instead, my stories weren’t edited much, and my pitches weren’t questioned much. I was pretty bored, actually. I started freelancing pieces to the Travel and Lifestyle sections.

And New Times?

New Times was just weird. It comes across as a cool, alternative publication, but it’s really just as corporate as any major metro – perhaps more so, because the financial pressures in that niche with City Link must have been outrageous.

The Broward-Palm Beach edition was new and still defining itself when I joined it after its first issue. I was so jazzed about it, but it wasn’t a good fit for the kind of reporting I wanted to do. Not everyone is a bad guy or a victim, but that’s what they wanted. I didn’t sleep well after rewriting my stories to please my editors. I wanted to write for my readers. I wasn’t smart enough to figure out how to survive there. I only lasted eight months, maybe less.

One positive note: I got to work with Sean Rowe, who remains one of the coolest journalists I’ve ever met.

What's the biggest difference working for another editor and for yourself?

Good stuff gets on the front page, regardless of who wrote it.

Advice for someone wanting to start their own publication?

Find someone else to pay for it.

No seriously, my advice is to find people you trust to handle the stuff you aren’t good at. My husband, David, is a whiz at the financial and schmoozing-for-advertisers parts. Our partner Peg is a whiz at the business management and sales parts. All I have to do is the journalism.

Most frustrating part of your job?

Working in a newsroom of one. That will change in the first quarter of 2008 when I hire an M.E.

Funnest part of your job?

Talking to yacht crew. They’re so interesting and most are incredibly passionate about what they do. Their jobs are their lives, and I so respect people who live that way. Most of us work 9-to-5 and squeeze in the living around that. Imagine how much more living we could do if we could live and work at something we love?

Career highlight?

Today, running The Triton. The best part is having a receptive and responsive audience. Elsewhere in my career, readers rarely let me know what they thought of my stories and columns. After 15 years as a reporter at large dailies, alternative tabs, and business weeklies, my “atta-girl” folder held about 10 notes. I surpassed that with our first issue of The Triton. Every day, someone praises the content of the paper and thanks us for the work we do. I sleep great at night now.

Weird dues-paying story?

During my college internship at the Los Angeles Times, I was often sent to interview grieving relatives. One Mormon family with something like 11 kids lost a young son in their swimming pool the day before. Expecting a grieving and angry family, I knocked on the door with my condolences and a convincing speech all ready.

Before I could get that far, the father welcomed me inside, offered me an iced tea, sat me down with a family photo album, and told me all about the little boy – while hordes of kids and relatives ran around the house, playing in the pool, talking, and eating. The mother passed through the room only once, a sad look on her face – and very pregnant.

Amusing professional gaffe?

Telling Sun-Sentinel editor Gene Cryer in a new employee lunch that he didn’t seem to care much about his reporters who suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome. He raised his voice and ended the lunch. It wasn’t funny at the time and it turned out to be not such a smart move for me professionally.

One piece of advice you wish you could surgically implant into college students and young professionals?

Know where you want to be in 10 years and recognize that each step toward getting there is just a step. There’s something to learn from each step. In college, I wanted to eventually cover Congress, but I lost sight of that along the way. If I had remembered that vision, I would have seen my time at the Sun-Sentinel a little less personally and would have moved up by moving on instead of quitting altogether.

And believe that you aren’t yet as good as you are going to get. Experience makes you great, so embrace every one.