#MediaMonday – Lee Shappell
Given the relaunch and storied history of the paper, and that Lee’s last #MediaMonday feature was back in 2018, we figured there is no better time to invite a champion of community journalism back to share his experiences in media and fill us in on the past, present and future of the Tempe Tribune.
Take it away, Lee!
Tell us about your journey to The Tempe Tribune and the relaunch of the paper.
We at Times Media Group are excited to give back to Tempe its own local newspaper, which launched on Feb. 4! This publication dates to 1887 when it was the Tempe Daily News. It has a long history as the go-to source of everything Tempe.
When our company’s owner and founder, Steve Strickbine, acquired the East Valley Tribune properties in 2015, it included the rights to two publications that had ceased to publish, the Scottsdale Progress and the Tempe Daily News.
Times Media Group brought back the Scottsdale Progress as a weekly in 2018, and it is doing great. We now hope to replicate that with the Tempe Tribune. I am deeply honored to be involved with this relaunch as a weekly. I have a deep respect for those journalists who came before me and the success they had, as well as for the city’s rich history and for the hungry audience we will serve.
I’ve been around Valley news outlets for a long time. I love community journalism. TMG is an anomaly: It is in an expansion mode at a time when the industry is shrinking. That is because TMG delivers what consumers want: news of what’s happening in their backyards. What’s the City Council doing? How’s the school board spending taxpayers’ money? What’s coming to that chunk of vacant land down on the corner? Is there an interesting person or event I didn’t know about in my neighborhood? Is the mom-and-pop business that I frequent doing OK?
I was at The Arizona Republic for 39 years in a variety of roles. I tried to retire but discovered quickly that I’m just no good at it. I’m not wired to clean out closets and garages. It’s too hot to golf in the summer and too expensive in the winter. So, I get bored.
I love short-term projects building or rebuilding community newsrooms. A while back, I had a stint at Times Media Group as Managing Editor of Scottsdale Airpark News magazine, East Valley Tribune and Ahwatukee Foothills News.
I then tried to retire again, got bored again, and became Executive Editor of the bi-weekly Wrangler News, which serves south Tempe. We redid everything, from the logo and design to revamping the staff and the content, giving it a newsier, more sophisticated voice. We won an unprecedented seven Arizona Press Club awards. I was thrilled to receive a podium finish for Arizona Community Journalist of the Year. Then, I’d no more than left and they essentially undid everything I had done. Oh, well!
My next stop was Editorial Director at InMaricopa, an interesting operation in Pinal County. It has a 24/7 website, and its only print product is a monthly slick, glossy magazine that has a world of potential to dive more deeply into local people, businesses and news. Again, we retooled the staff and polished up the product, and won 10 Arizona Newspaper Association awards as a first-time entrant.
It was time for another break – this time for good, I thought – but when I got wind of the relaunch of the Tempe Tribune, I just couldn’t help myself. I don’t wear boots, but I’ll probably die with my loafers on.
What types of pitches, stories, topics are you looking for as the editor of The Tempe Tribune?
Really anything specific to Tempe. Pretty much anything that has a story that resonates. Don’t be afraid to pitch anything to me at email@example.com. The worst I can tell you is no. We typically work two weeks in advance, so don’t wait until the last minute! Press releases are OK, just don’t make me feel like I need to take a shower after reading one!
What are your favorite types of stories to work on? Do you have a favorite story you have written?
I’m a storyteller. I really enjoy those kinds of stories. I especially enjoyed telling the story of neighbors near Loop 101 in south Tempe who experienced significant increase in noise after the freeway was widened 3 ½ years ago. The previous rubberized asphalt surface was replaced by diamond grinding on the bare concrete surface. Neighbors pressed ADOT and MAG for 3 years, and eventually the agencies conceded that the contractor had done the diamond grind incorrectly, causing the noise increase. MAG late last year approved $13 million to re-do the stretch beginning this spring. The neighbors didn’t give up, and they won. Love it!
What are some of your hobbies?
I try to golf. I enjoy fishing. Really into food and wine – a little too good at those. I still enjoy sports (my first 26 years at The Republic were in sports).
Favorite movies or TV shows? Books?
Peaky Blinders. Boston Legal. Suits. The Bear. Ted Lasso. Blazing Saddles. Oppenheimer. Inglorious Basterds. I don’t read much because I read all day for a living. I enjoyed The Sun Also Rises and Atlas Shrugged.
What are your favorite local spots?
I’m a homebody. My favorite places are our back patio and my wife’s kitchen. I am into most of the sushi, Mexican and Italian joints in Ahwatukee. Also, My Wine Cellar and The Living Room.
Best way to reach you?
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org