When Amy Gilligan officially becomes executive editor on January 1, she’ll mark two new firsts at the Telegraph Herald: the first woman ever to hold the top editor position, and the first top editor actually from Dubuque, Iowa, in 90 years.
Born and raised in the city, she started her newspaper career at the Fort Dodge Messenger about 200 miles west. But she’s spent the great majority of her career at the Telegraph Herald.
“It meant a lot to me to work in my home town,” she said. “When I left Dubuque in the ‘80s, it had the highest unemployment in the country.”
Now, it’s a thriving city. “And the Telegraph Herald has been tracking all that.” Gilligan added. “We’ve been an advocate when we needed to be—and a critic when we needed to be.”
Gilligan, 51, has been at the Telegraph Herald since 1990, when she was hired as a copy editor. She moved up the ranks, becoming city editor and, for the last nearly nine years, managing editor. Along the way she wrote a column for the paper and served on the editorial board for two decades, winning state and regional awards for editorials.
“And for all those years my mentor was Brian Cooper,” she said. Cooper has been executive editor for 30 years, and requested a reduced role with the newspaper’s parent company, Woodward Communications Inc., the paper reported. Cooper will become editorial page editor and special projects resource, the paper said.
“Amy is more than ready for this opportunity, and she’ll do a great job,” Cooper said in a Telegraph Herald article. “Not only is she an outstanding journalist and manager, as a Dubuque native, she cares deeply about this news organization and this community.”
Indeed, local news will continue to be where the newsroom will invest its resources—and community involvement will continue to be crucial, Gilligan said.
“The mantra around here is the life/work balance, and that can be hard with young journalists,” she said. “But we believe to cover a community, you need to be part of that community.”
Gilligan said she firmly believes the newspaper continues to be central to Dubuque’s civil life. “We’re pretty visible in our community in ways that aren’t just print,” she said. “People follow us on Twitter, checking the prep scores on Twitter because we’re the (media organization) doing that.” The paper’s live Twitter reporting daily at four o’clock and its digital NewsCaster posts get positive and frequent feedback, she said, adding, “All of that is driven by the content that we get in large part for print.”
“I think we’re hanging right in there,” she said. “I think the newspaper is still a vital part of our community. We’re building on our website every day. We’re trying to meet the consumer where they want to be. They want to know what’s going on in their community.”
Steve Fisher, publisher of the Telegraph Herald and Woodward Community Media and general manager of Woodward Printing Services, said the appointment of a Dubuque native minimizes disruption at the top editorial post. “I am particularly happy that we are able to promote from within, and add more gender diversity to our senior management team,” he added.