#MediaMonday – Lee Shappell

LeeLocal legend alert!
Today’s #MediaMonday is a doozy. It comes from none other than Lee Shappell. While our younger readers will know him for his current gig at Times Media Group, many will recognize his name from the many years he spent at The Arizona Republic, where he served as everything from editor to copy desk chief to copy editor to reporter.

How did you get into reporting/editing in the first place? What’s your story?

I became a journalist because I didn’t become a rocket scientist. It’s true!
During my junior year in high school, I took calculus, which exhausted the math offerings at Amphi High in Tucson (I was a year ahead in math when we moved from Ohio). I’d applied for early admission to Rice University in Houston, which had a nice relationship with the Johnson Space Center there, intending to go become an aerospace engineer, a rocket scientist.
In my senior year, because there was no more math to take, I needed another class to be eligible for sports. One of my English teachers recommended that I take Student Newspaper because she thought I wrote well. It sounded like an easy “A,” exactly what I was looking for, and voila! I was hooked.
What was then the Tucson Daily Citizen hired students from each high school as their sports correspondents. I got $8 a game to cover Amphi sports. They seemed to like me at the Citizen and offered me part-time work if I stayed in town to go to school. The U of A at that time had one of the top J-schools in the country with an all-star cast of professors. It was small, pre-Watergate, before everybody and his brother wanted to be the next star investigative reporter.
I worked my way through school at the Citizen, got the opportunity to come up to The Republic afterward and was in sports there for 26 years. It was fun covering the Suns through the Charles Barkley era and even more fun on the Cardinals beat when they were really terrible. It’s fun to invent creative new ways to say “they suck” each week. They’re a lot better now.
I was really patting myself on the back for my decision because the aerospace industry took a dive and the incidence of bankruptcies was high.
When I got tired of being on the road 100 nights a year and our kids came along, I reinvented myself as a copy editor, then copy desk chief, then content editor. That’s about the time the newspaper industry also went south (I should have been a mortician. Steady work there.) With each personnel-reduction move, and there was one every year for many years, as soon as I finished congratulating myself for surviving another one the reality hit that we’d lost many good people and we were going to be a lot less than we’d been before. Eventually, I got tired of looking over my shoulder and accepted a buyout after 39 years. It was a decent package because of my seniority.
I had no idea what was next, if anything. I tried to retire initially, and it was great for about six weeks. I’m just not that excited about cleaning out closets.
I got an opportunity to come to Times Media Group as managing editor in charge of several publications, most notable of which was Scottsdale Airpark News. It wasn’t rocket science, but the Airpark area is very cool. Still, it wasn’t the best fit for me and I left after less than a year, pretty sure that I was done for good this time.
A year-and-a-half went by. I discovered that it’s too hot to play golf in the summer and too expensive to play in the winter. And who wants to endure a six-hour round?
Things had changed drastically at Times Media. Paul Maryniak contacted me in May with another opportunity there – managing editor of the East Valley Tribune and Ahwatukee Foothills News – and like a bad penny I’m back. I am very grateful that Paul and Steve Strickbine gave me this opportunity.
This time, I’m having a blast! (Dammit, I try to avoid rocket talk). I get to mentor young journalists, which was among my passions even at The Republic. It’s fun and invigorating. It really feeds me.
I’ve tried to retire twice. I swear I gave it an honest effort! I’m just no good at it.
I’ve lived in Ahwatukee since 1984 and always thought that late in my career it would be fun to work at my local newspaper. I’m very content now at what I expect will be my final job.
This is what I’m made to do. Although I confess that when my son was a Cub Scout, I helped him build his rocket.

Tell us about each of the outlets you manage, and the content for each?

I love community journalism, and we are local-local. We don’t publish state and national content or even Valley-wide content.
I believe that other news outlets made a serious error in judgment by abandoning their community operations. We tell people what is happening in their backyard. It’s stuff they really want to know. We publish weekly, so we do not take a hard-news approach. Instead, we try to tell compelling stories about the news, give context. We hope that they see themselves in our pages.
The East Valley Tribune focuses on Mesa and Chandler. The Ahwatukee Foothills News is about stuff west of Interstate 10 in the Southeast Valley. We’re excited about bringing back the Scottsdale Progress in September. Recently our company made its entry into the West Valley with our purchase of West Valley Views.
Times Media is an anomaly in the industry: We’re still print first, although we have good websites, and we are in an expansion mode. There is still a lot of territory out there that is under served. We’ll get to it.

Where did you grow up?

Lima, Ohio. I tell people that it’s a good place to be FROM. The school system is far superior to what I found here when we moved. I have no doubt that I am a journalist because proper use of the language was drilled into us in elementary school. And the Midwestern values remain solid at a time when ethics and morality and decency seem to be in decline. It’s also good that I had a chance to move on, but I’m glad I grew up there.

Favorite type of music?

All the good stuff from the ‘60s and early ‘70s. Lately, I’ve really gotten into jazz, too.

Favorite color?

Purple. Nothing to do with the Suns. It just feels regal.

Favorite place to visit? 

Poipu Beach, Kauai. Del Mar, California. Colorado.

What are some of your favorite local spots or things to do?

I’m a homebody and seldom go beyond Ahwatukee: My Wine Cellar, Bell’ Italia, Ezekial’s, Los Taquitos, Sushi Ken, Taste of Thai. Oh, and Keegan’s on Tuesdays because it’s split-pea soup night. I order two bowls and a salad. You’d be more likely to find me on my patio or on the patio of friends. I deliberately don’t have a wide circle of friends, but the ones I have are solid. You don’t have to twist my arm to venture up to Sierra Bonita in north-central Phoenix, or to Mesa to B.J. Hernandez’s new Latin Kitchen, though.

Favorite food?

Oh, man, this is my weakness. One thing I’m really adept at is eating. I like them all. If push comes to shove, probably Italian. I’m a sucker for great Mexican food, too, and lament that we don’t have a really good mom-and-pop in The Tuke like the ones I knew in Tucson.

Least favorite food? 

Anything healthy. My system just can’t take it.

Three things readers would be surprised to know about you?

1—Forty-five years and 100 pounds ago, I broke 3 hours in a marathon. Now, I can’t even run to the refrigerator.
2—I recruited and coached a basketball team to an undefeated season and a Tucson city championship. WE were the Artichokes before THEY were the Artichokes.
3—I don’t know how to type.

What should people be pitching you? 

Really anything specific to Mesa, Chandler and Ahwatukee (we also have publications in Gilbert and Scottsdale, and while I don’t handle those, I can easily funnel stuff to the correct editor). Press releases are OK, just don’t make me feel like I need to take a shower after reading one!

What is the lead time you need for content?

We typically work two weeks in advance. You’d be surprised how many calls and emails we get today about stuff happening tomorrow. Nothing I can do to help them. Work ahead!

What is the best way to reach you?

Email is great: lshappell@timespublications.com.
I’ll also answer the phone if I know it’s from you: 480-898-6825 is my direct line.

Written by
at Aug 20, 2018

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