McClatchy’s Chris Hendricks Signs Off After a Long Digital-First Career
McClatchy’s Chris Hendricks has often been my GPS on where daily newspapers, including his company, were in finding their legs on the constantly shifting ground of digital publishing. But starting tomorrow morning, I won’t be able to get any more positional readouts from Hendricks.
After a 25-year career at McClatchy where he led the company on its make-or-break journey from print to digital, Hendricks is retiring.
I’m sure there’s a party for Hendricks today at McClatchy’s headquarters on Q Street in Sacramento. I hope he’ll be able to pull himself away from his last day of work to eat a slice of cake. But don’t count on it. I asked and twice reminded him to send me a summative personal statement in time for this column. I got this message from him Monday:
Unfortunately, I’m not going to make the deadline. I’ve got a lot going on here and it’s just not in the cards for me to put something together.
That’s Hendricks. He was not being curt — just telling me, matter of fact, what his circumstances were. For Hendricks, work was supremely important when he was punched in at McClatchy and his myriad other related business activities, including the Local Media Consortium, which he helped to reincarnate in 2013, and with a better framework, out of the old The News Consortium, which had Yahoo! as a cross-selling partner.
This week, he was not about to spend 15 or 20 minutes on himself – not even for a valedictory in Street Fight after 25 years at McClatchy. (Checking my email archive, I saw that I had to cancel my first Q & A with Hendricks in 2014 because he was busy, as he often was, visiting some of McClatchy’s 30 newspapers in cities coast to coast.)
Hendricks has been central to McClatchy’s digital development from its baby steps in the brave new world of the mid-1990s. He was named manager of technology in 1994 and was promoted to president and publisher of the company’s digital publishing hub Nando Media (renamed McClatchy Interactive) in 1996. He became vice president of interactive media in 1999 and vice president of products, marketing and innovation in 2015. In the capstone of his career at McClatchy, he was appointed corporate vice president of strategic initiatives in 2017.
What was Hendricks’ impact on McClatchy’s in its print-to-digital transition? I checked out the company’s recent third-quarter 2017 report to get a good idea:
- National online-only advertising grew 21% in the quarter and 17.5% in the full year.
- Programmatic advertising was up 34% in the quarter.
- McClatchy’s Excelerate Digital Marketing Agency now has 75 employees managing more than 110 different brands across McClatchy and other markets. More than half of the agency’s advertisers are new, and they account for half of the revenue.
- Digital subscription, while slowing down from the previous quarter, were still up nearly 16% from last year – to almost 93,000, keeping the company on track to exceed 100,000 digital subscriptions in 2017.
- Total average unique visitors grew 23% to 78 million and local unique visitors were up almost 20%. Total pageviews grew 8.7% to 986 million over the same period last year.
Hendricks, of course, didn’t make all this happen, and McClatchy, despite its overall strong third-quarter numbers, is still struggling to find its digital legs. But early on, step by step, trial by error, Hendricks was instrumental in the company – with its all-print history going back to 1857 – putting itself on a digital-first arc that continues to curve upward. Today, McClatchy’s print editions are responsible for less than 30% of advertising.
Hendricks’ colleagues can assess him best, so I’ll turn this space over to two who know him and his work well – Rusty Coats, CEO of the Local Media Consortium, and Tim Grieve, vice president of news at McClatchy.
Hendricks has been a guiding force in digital for 25 years at McClatchy and for the industry at large. As the leader of Nando, the pioneering online news service that was CNN on the web before CNN got on the web, he showed how traditional news companies could reach beyond their own geography – and current technology – to connect with new audiences and bring communities together. As an industry leader, he has helped and mentored dozens of other digital pioneers, and was a champion for diversity across an industry that needs more voices like his.
As chairman of the Executive Committee of the Local Media Consortium, he was transformative in helping the LMC leadership take a more proactive role in facing the major technology platforms. In 2013, as the Newspaper Consortium was winding down, he challenged the board to have the boldness to lead the conversation with Google, Yahoo!, Aol, Microsoft and later Facebook, to assert the collective strength of local media — rather than be recipients of the overtures from those companies. That was a major turning point, and set the LMC on a path that has grown from 32 companies to nearly 80, and to create dozens of new digital opportunities for large and small local media companies.
I am grateful to have worked alongside Hendricks for 20 of those years, first as a local online leader at McClatchy, then as a peer in my corporate roles at Media General and E.W. Scripps, and most recently as executive director (now CEO) of the Local Media Consortium. He has been a mentor, guide, friend and co-conspirator, and I have no doubt he will continue to find ways to lead – and serve – local media companies.
Chris Hendricks’ stewardship of what was then called McClatchy Interactive helped lay the groundwork for everything we’re doing with the digital transformation. Long before it was a priority for most editors and publishers,
Hendricks was working to provide the technology and the products that would allow journalists raised on print to embrace the digital future. If he hadn’t done what he did, we couldn’t be doing what we’re doing today.
Hendricks’ next stop is not a rocking chair. He has joined the Local Media Foundation board as secretary and will move into the chairman’s role in August 2019. He also is serving on a Local Media Association strategic planning committee.
His new email address for personal and LMC business is: firstname.lastname@example.org.