By the time this story appears in The Salt Lake Tribune, Editor Nancy Conway will be in Portugal for a long-planned vacation. Only now, she’ll be scouting for places to retire and write.
Conway — the 71-year-old lifelong Red Sox fan who grew from working-class roots to become a Peace Corps worker turned schoolteacher turned journalist — announced Sept. 12 she would give up The Tribune’s top newsroom job amid a round of layoffs that cut 20 percent of the staff at Utah’s largest newspaper.
Her last day was Monday.
Managing Editor Terry Orme, a 35-year Tribune veteran who started as a copyboy, took over as editor and publisher Tuesday.
Conway, the first woman to head The Tribune in its 142-year history, said she has no immediate plans to leave Utah or her Holladay home and has offered to help remaining editors navigate the effects of the layoffs "in any way I can."
"There’s probably not a community in the country where the newspaper has been as important as this one, because we are independent," she said. "And our independence gives us a great deal of distinction.’’
Righting the ship » Conway arrived in 2003, chosen for the job by William Dean Singleton, whose Colorado-based newspaper chain MediaNews Group acquired The Tribune in 2000. She replaced James E. "Jay" Shelledy after he resigned in the face of an ethical scandal and staff revolt over two Tribune reporters who secretly sold inaccurate information about the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping to a supermarket tabloid.
"Nancy was the most trusted person I had to come in and stabilize the ship and do good journalism while making sure that our credibility was unquestioned," said Singleton, who has stepped down as the paper’s publisher. "She has one of the finest newspaper minds I’ve ever known."
Conway was surprised by the media splash surrounding her arrival. "I was interviewed by every television station, all the radio stations. I was in the paper. I mean, it was a big deal."
After a decade leading The Tribune, Conway earned a reputation as an advocate for open government, for adhering to high ethical standards and for blanket coverage of major news events such as the Trolley Square shootings, the Crandall Canyon mining disaster and the Susan Cox Powell disappearance.
She was an organizing force in the Utah Media Coalition, formed in 2006 by the state’s major news outlets to lobby for Utah’s open-record laws and government transparency. The group played a decisive role five years later in fighting HB477, a short-lived plan that would have severely restricted public access to government records.
Conway guided crucial shifts of newsroom staff, resources and attention toward online publishing and away from the days when newspapers plopped on doorsteps were the primary way of reaching readers. Web and smartphone readership has skyrocketed, far outpacing the paper’s ability to make money from that surging digital audience.
Conway oversaw The Tribune’s 2005 move from its Main Street home to new digs at Salt Lake City’s Gateway. She also reopened a two-reporter Washington, D.C., bureau.
‘You go, girl’ » On a personal level, co-workers described Conway — who speaks with a light Massachusetts accent — as gracious, poised, charming, compassionate, tough and tenacious, while having a deep-seated passion for watchdog journalism and for trumping competitors on breaking news. She typically lunched on salads at her desk and worked late. She was a stickler for budget numbers, allowed managers to run their departments, and sought input from an array of colleagues on many decisions.
Some say she was too removed in recent years from day-to-day newsroom operations, partly because, with Singleton based in Denver, she fulfilled many community duties traditionally performed by a publisher.
Foremost, Conway, who sees herself as a "little shy," was viewed as a trailblazer and a female role model in a conservative state whose major institutions are still overwhelmingly dominated by men.
"For a lot of us, including women outside the newsroom, it was rewarding that Nancy was successful in a state that doesn’t have a lot of high-profile female editors," said Anne Wilson, a longtime Tribune reporter and editor who now works in its online division.
One day, as Conway emerged from the office to hail a cab to the airport, a woman came running up to her and said, "It is you! You go, girl! You do this for all of us!"
"By then I realized and I didn’t have to ask her what she meant," Conway said. "The glass ceiling still exists."Next Page >
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