Q&A With Trif Alatzas
Name / Title: Trif Alatzas (@trifalatzas), Senior Vice President, Executive Editor of The Baltimore Sun Media Group
First job: I washed dishes at my parents’ restaurant when I was about 8 years old. I had to stand on an overturned milk crate to reach the sink. I learned to work hard and to make sure that each plate, pot, utensil and water glass was spotless.
Favorite pastimes: Spending time with my family, cooking, reading and watching movies and baseball.
Vitamin’s owners are Greek and grew up in the foodservice business, so we have to know… was your parents’ place a Greek joint?
Trif: Being of Greek heritage, my family has deep roots in the Baltimore restaurant scene. I worked at my parents’ restaurant a few doors away from The Sun’s building on Calvert Street where I met several journalists who frequented the diner during the late ’80s. Members of my family have owned restaurants throughout the Baltimore area dating back to the 1930s. Most of these restaurants were diners that served terrific comfort food. While not known specifically as Greek restaurants, they certainly had Greek dishes and recipes on the menu.
Before being named executive editor, your roles at The Sun included intern, business editor, sports editor and head of digital media. What was the driving factor in your upward progression?
Trif: My attitude has always been to do any job I have to the best of my ability and to help those I work with do the same. That philosophy has helped me advance in an organization that I care deeply about given its important role in Baltimore.
The Sun is like most successful organizations in this changing economy — it provides great opportunities for those who embrace change, who problem solve, who are not afraid to try new things and who are passionate about their work. I started my career here as an intern back in the ‘80s when I wrote for The Evening Sun while still in college. I returned to The Sun in 2002 as an assistant business editor and moved up the ladder by consistently working with my colleagues to provide compelling, in-depth and award-winning news coverage.
You were born and raised in Baltimore and have been at The Sun for 12 years. What are the most significant changes you’ve seen The Sun experience that have helped shape it into the publication it is today?
Trif: We have transformed from being solely in the newspaper business — publishing just a few editions each day — to now providing information around the clock. Technology has helped us reach larger audiences than ever before. We still publish newspapers and deliver them to your doorsteps, but we also deliver news to computers, smart phones and tablets, so readers can get their news how they want it, when they want it and where they want it.
Information gathering is a two-way street and our dialogue with the reader is more robust than it has ever been. Readers can react to our stories immediately now by discussing them with us on social media and commenting on the articles with other readers.
What’s your overarching vision for The Baltimore Sun Media Group in 2015?
Trif: My vision for our editorial coverage is to provide urgent, unique, relevant and in-depth coverage of the Baltimore area and Maryland. We will hold institutions as well as individual government, business and community leaders accountable for their actions while also detailing the stories about the region that users cannot find anywhere else.
Despite widespread cutbacks in newsrooms across the country, The Sun has invested in expanding its investigative reporting staff. Why was this important to the development and success of the paper?
Trif: We take our role as community watchdogs seriously. Our readers expect us to ask the difficult questions that others cannot and to help shine light on the challenges facing this community and find solutions. These added investments to our investigative coverage improve our publications, bolster our public service mission and set us apart from our competitors.
You recently launched a new website. What was the impetus behind the redesign?
Trif: People have changed the way they consume news, so the website was redesigned to meet their needs and make it easier to access our coverage. The new design is state-of-the-art and built to conform to whatever device you use to get your news. To that end, we recently launched a new mobile application for The Sun that improves the user experience as well.
Describe some of the features of the new site and their benefits to users.
Trif: The new site is easier to read, easier to use and easier to share articles, photographs and other information. Users said they wanted better navigation, improved search, more images and enhanced video – so we incorporated a new “visual browse” feature, which highlights our terrific photojournalism and provides storytelling through pictures. The site now houses more than 100,000 articles, photographs, graphics, blogs, video and more, so there is plenty to satisfy any user.
How are your readers responding?
Trif: Feedback has been positive. Readers tell us they enjoy the look and feel of the site and many have enjoyed exploring the new design.
Technology is undoubtedly shaping the media industry. What role do you think technology will have at The Baltimore Sun Media Group moving forward?
Trif: We’ll continue to evolve with our users, constantly adapting to the changing ways they consume and engage with news. We believe in investing in strong reporting and terrific storytelling — that is what will keep readers engaged with our information.
What business advice would you give to others looking to take advantage of digital media tools within their own industries?
Trif: Understanding your audience is the key to successfully using technology to enhance your work. Technology can help you engage with readers like never before. The content we supply is what drives users to our sites and social media accounts. The engagement with the user is how we continue to build loyalty and expand this dialogue. The digital tools available to you will continue to evolve, and it’s important to understand them as your audience’s habits change. The technology helps deliver the information, but always make sure the information you deliver is relevant and valuable to your users.