Mackenzie Warren, a top news executive at the nation’s largest local news publishing company, has been named director of the new Local News Accelerator at Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications.
Warren has been a senior member of Gannett’s news executive team for more than a decade. In his two most recent posts, he focused on news strategy and career-development for journalists. He will bring those leadership experiences to Medill’s downtown Chicago campus, where he will be based beginning later this winter.
From there, he will lead Medill’s unique Local News Accelerator, a project designed to help strengthen the sustainability of local news in Chicago by working directly with area news outlets on business strategies, audience development, consumer research, and leadership coaching.
“Mackenzie is ideally suited to lead this exciting new venture to improve local news in Chicago,” Medill Dean Charles Whitaker said. “As a long-time executive at Gannett, Mackenzie has spent years working with local news leaders across the country on strategies for audience engagement and digital storytelling. He understands the opportunities and challenges in local news as well as anyone, and he’ll bring that expertise to the Accelerator and our news partners. He’ll also be returning to Medill, where he earned his bachelor’s degree, and Illinois, where he launched his career as an online editor in Rockford.”
Tim Franklin, the senior associate dean and John M. Mutz Chair in Local News, said Warren’s hiring is another indication of Medill’s commitment to helping transform a local news industry that is grappling with new models in the digital age.
“Mackenzie is someone who will have an immediate impact on the Accelerator project and Medill,” said Franklin, who also directs the Medill Local News Initiative. “Mackenzie has a deep well of understanding about the local news business, and he has a vast network of contacts around the country. He’ll bring all of those assets to help improve what is already one of the more innovative local news ecosystems in America right here in Chicago.”
The Medill Local News Accelerator, one of the only projects of its kind housed inside a journalism school, is being funded with a $2.4 million grant over the next three years from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.
“Chicagoland is a vibrant, dynamic system of communities that deserves a vibrant, dynamic system of local news coverage,” Warren said. “We see dozens of encouraging examples coming into existence. The Medill Local News Accelerator is positioned to help these early movers, and others yet to be invented, find their places as both essential community services and successful, sustainable businesses.
“Our opportunity is to help develop and support the new business models through which local news organizations will grow and thrive,” Warren continued. “For several reasons, there’s no better city in America for this initiative. First, Chicagoland comprises distinct neighborhood and suburbs that each have their own geographies, characters, histories. Second, as a cultural center, there’s a critical mass of people who are passionately connected to any interest you can imagine. Together, this tapestry suggests that a wide range of potential news products could earn loyal, paying customers. Third, the combined forces and vision of the McCormick Foundation and Northwestern University, both dedicated to fueling the local news ecosystem in Chicago, is an asset no other city in America enjoys.”
The Accelerator is one of several major local news-related projects now underway at Medill, which launched the Local News Initiative five years ago.
Medill is now overseeing an index of local news readers being used by more than 100 outlets across the U.S., a Metro Media Lab project that is conducting audience research and experiments for Chicago news organizations, a Midwest Hub for Solutions Journalism, and a program for high school teachers and students called Teach for Chicago Journalism. Medill also is now the home for the State of Local News Project, a major research database tracking local news closures and startups in the U.S.
“A stronger local news ecosystem translates to a clear outcome: We and our neighbors will live healthier, more informed, safer, happier, more fulfilling lives,” Warren said. “The track record of the Medill Local News Initiative, together with Chicago-based partners we’ve worked with already, shows we have great momentum and our odds of success are high.”