A top advertising and digital executive from The Boston Globe has been named chief executive officer of MaineToday Media Inc. and publisher of Maine’s largest chain of newspapers and websites.
Lisa DeSisto, 49, is the chief advertising officer of Boston Globe Media and the general manager of Boston.com, one of the 10 most-viewed newspaper websites in the country.
She will begin her new job Nov. 19 as publisher of the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, the Morning Sentinel in Waterville, MaineToday.com and the Coastal Journal in Bath.
DeSisto said Tuesday that she sees the new job as a chance to use her experience in Boston to lead an expansion of digital services and revenue at MaineToday. She also said she sees an opportunity to increase newspaper circulation, based in part on the company’s recent expansion of its news staff.
“MaineToday Media is experiencing some of the same questions the Globe was in terms of how to drive the digital revenue and position itself for a digital future,” she said.
“I also was really impressed with the approach that Donald Sussman has taken, of investing in the newsroom. At a time when you see many newspapers cutting back, the folks at MaineToday Media understand how important it is to put out a quality product.”
DeSisto will be the first person to permanently fill the top executive position since the company faced a financial crisis and internal reorganization last fall and winter. Sussman, a financier and philanthropist who is married to U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, became majority owner in March.
The North Haven resident and an interim management team have since restored positions — including for nine reporters and one editor — and prepared to modernize the content management system used to produce the newspapers and websites.
“Since March, we have moved to strengthen MaineToday Media and position it for sustained growth,” Sussman said in a written statement Tuesday.
In a telephone interview, Sussman called DeSisto an experienced community-builder. “Putting such an incredibly accomplished woman in charge of our papers is another step in establishing the highest journalistic standards that our community deserves,” he said.
The leader of the Maine Newspaper Guild, which represents about 220 employees at the Press Herald and Morning Sentinel, said the hiring of an expert in digital news products is another step forward.
“Our members have made some really hard sacrifices over the past few years to keep this company afloat, and we are excited finally to be in this position. We now have both an innovative leader and a committed owner who is investing in quality journalism and new technology,” said Tom Bell, a Press Herald reporter who serves as guild president, in a written statement.
DeSisto has been at the Globe since 1995, when she became the first marketing manager for Boston.com. She rose through a series of marketing, digital product and sales management positions. She has been responsible for integrated print and digital ad sales at the Globe and general manager of Boston.com since 2010.
Globe Publisher Christopher Mayer issued an announcement to employees praising DeSisto for “enormous” contributions to the Globe and Boston.com.
Scott Steeves, a 28-year Globe employee and president of the Boston Newspaper Guild, said DeSisto has been “extremely reasonable and fair” with employees.
“She had an open-door policy. She was always available to sit and talk with. I’m sorry that the Globe is losing her,” he said.
DeSisto was part of the team at the Globe that last year launched a second website, BostonGlobe.com, and began an unusual two-brand strategy. Boston.com remains a free news, arts and entertainment site that features articles generated by the Globe and a variety of other content. BostonGlobe.com is a subscriber-only news site that features all of the newspaper’s journalism, without some of the features, such as blogs, found on most newspaper websites.
BostonGlobe.com has about 23,000 direct subscribers. Subscribers to the newspaper’s print version also get free access to the website. The two sites have enabled the company to sell news content to readers who are willing to pay, while allowing Boston.com to expand its free non-news content for visitors who want the variety. Boston.com recently launched a streaming digital music station, RadioBDC, for example.
“The idea is to just keep adding more value to the package (to) attract new people but also to retain existing subscribers,” DeSisto said.
The Globe’s two-brand strategy is being watched in the industry and has its fans and its detractors, said Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. Boston.com, with about 6 million unique visitors a month, has consistently been one of the top newspaper websites, he said.
Benton said only a handful of national newspapers, such as The New York Times, have more visits to their sites.
“The jury is still out on some of the moves they have made. But, I think the Globe has been more innovative than a lot of their peer newspapers in their thinking about online, and I think Lisa is a big part of that,” Benton said.
DeSisto said the Globe had an unusual opportunity to launch a second website, and the strategy would not necessarily work in every market.
She will look for ways to expand digital services and traffic in Maine, she said, but she doesn’t yet have specific plans. “My first plan is to learn as much as possible about the operation,” DeSisto said.
“Obviously, with my experience, digital is going to be a big focus.” She said that doesn’t mean that the newspapers will be neglected. “You have to put quality journalism on every platform, but there are still a large number of people who love that print product,” she said.
DeSisto said her experience as an advertising executive does not mean business decisions will drive news coverage.
“Without journalistic integrity, we don’t have the confidence of our consumers, and that is paramount to everything we do,” she said. “It doesn’t mean (advertising and news) can’t collaborate. But when it comes to what the news content is, the business side doesn’t play a role in it.”
DeSisto said she also feels confident that the political views of Sussman, a major donor to Democratic and progressive causes, will not interfere with the news coverage.
“(Sussman’s) role in this whole thing is making sure there’s financial stability to build this foundation,” DeSisto said. “His expectation is that we report the news.”
DeSisto and her husband, Tim Padgett, and their son plan to move to the Portland area in the coming weeks. She has family in southern Maine and has spent time each summer at a home in the Belgrade Lakes region.
Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at: [email protected]