Women in Business Q&A: Meredith Artley, Senior VP and Editor-in-Chief, CNN Digital Worldwide

07/03/2017 04:39 am ET

Meredith Artley is a senior vice president and editor-in-chief of CNN Digital Worldwide, where she oversees the creation, programming and publishing of content across all CNN Digital properties including CNN.com, CNNi.com, CNN Politics and CNNMoney across mobile, social, desktop and a variety of emerging platforms and products.

She leads a global team of more than 250 talented reporters, producers and editors to fuel one the world's top digital brands. Under Meredith's leadership, CNN Digital has become #1 in unique users across mobile and desktop, #1 in video, and the most followed and fanned news organization on social.

Before joining CNN and moving to Atlanta, Artley led digital editorial efforts, strategies and teams for the Los Angeles Times, the Paris-based International Herald Tribune and The New York Times.

She is the former president of the board for the Online News Association, a graduate of the University of Missouri, the wife of an ex-journalist and the mother of a rambunctious little boy.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

I’m the product of parents who have always supported and encouraged me. I grew up in family-focused neighborhoods in Kansas City, MO and in Cary, NC, with a tight group of friends that I keep close to this day. I’ve grown circles of friends through Iiving and working in New York, Paris, LA and now in Atlanta where I’ve been for nearly 8 years with CNN. I can count on many hands the wonderful teachers I’ve had in my entirely public education from grade school on through college. I’ve worked with people who have pushed me and who have provided examples of what to do and what not to do.

And most importantly, I married ridiculously well, with a caring and creative husband. We have a son, now 8, who is following his lead. Phew.

So, I come from a privileged background – not privilege in the term of money or class – but the far more important kind of privilege of having love and support from all the key corners.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at CNN?

I’ve worked at The New York Times, the Paris-based International Herald Tribune and the Los Angeles Times all before running CNN Digital’s editorial operations. All throughout I’ve worked with some of the best journalists in the world. I nabbed one of the first digital jobs at The New York Times, back in the mid 90s when no one knew if NYTimes.com would ever generate as much audience or revenue as the fax service. I’ve seen digital go from the edge to the center. I’ve grown and changed as the media and technology industries have done the same. In my best moments, I carry that enthusiasm, responsibility and perspective with me.

More specifically, here’s what each place I’ve worked prior to CNN has taught me:

New York Times: The value of working long and hard and late. Of leaping at leadership opportunities as soon as you can. And gaining the knowledge of which bars in NYC stay open til 4a. 

International Herald Tribune: The value of seeing news and life outside of the American lens. The importance of having people in a place making editorial decisions, not centralized decision making from afar. And that a bike ride through the Bois de Boulogne is the best commute in the world.

Los Angeles Times: The value of serving a local audience, even one as immense and globally influential as LA. And the realization that Sam Zell was not meant to run a news organization. 

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at CNN?

The team is the highlight. I work with dedicated and dynamic people who are committed to truth, creativity and doing right by stories that matter to people all over the world.   

Our morning news meetings are a highlight every day. There’s one I run for the global digital organization and another the big boss Jeff Zucker runs for the entire organization. I get to start the day engaging in a conversation about stories, audiences and platforms. 

I also enjoy the discussions and decisions around how we need to set ourselves up for the future. How we prioritize the big projects and initiatives, how we innovate with new technologies, platforms and partners… it’s the best kind of challenge. It’s good, hard work. And the tangible results are a highlight – CNN is the #1 digital news brand across mobile and desktop, #1 on social, #1 in video, #1 in politics, and #1 with millennials.

The big challenge is how to grow the audience and business needed to support CNN’s global independent journalism in this ever-changing landscape.  It’s critical that we get this right.

I would say President Trump calling us “fake news” has been a challenge but it’s been galvanizing. We are more focused than ever across all of CNN on how to do accurate, essential reporting that speaks to and for audiences across the political spectrum.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in the media industry?

If you are just starting out, just work hard. Say yes to helping a colleague whether it’s taking an extra shift or getting a cup of coffee or making time to connect over something that is NOT about work. Make it clear to the bosses what you are curious about, where you want to grow. Ask for feedback early and often, don’t wait for the review.

I tell people who join my team that they have a year-long honeymoon period to figure out the place, build key relationships, to ask all the ‘stupid’ questions. It’s the same when you are starting out in your career. Jump in, explore, make yourself invaluable and make your interests known.   

When I started at NYTimes.com, I took on the extra duty of doing the schedule for the digital newsroom. It was an administrative task. Not at all about journalism. But man, the scheduler has a ton of power. I learned a lot about how to ask people to do something they don’t want to do, and a lot about personalities and diplomacy very early on.

And none of this advice is gender-specific. Especially — guys — the part about getting coffee and doing the schedule.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?

I’m a fan of perseverance. Of tenacity on the things that matter. This could be a promotion or other career or life goal, or getting to the heart of a complicated story or personnel matter. This doesn’t mean to try and strive on every front and fight every battle. Know what the important things are, articulate those to yourself, and don’t give up.  

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

I can’t stand that “work/life balance” framing. It’s inherently polarizing. It carries a whiff of being a hostage of life because OMG HOW DOES SHE EVER DO IT. It’s just not how life works. Women – because that’s who that question is almost always applied to – are set up for failure with that framework. Everyone has hours and days where you need to prioritize one thing over another thing for a certain period of time, and then you make room for the other priorities as they shift and grow. I get there are many demands on all of us these days. But ultimately how you spend your time, and how you spend your energy and what to focus on belongs to you alone.

I’m blessed with an understanding husband and son who know that I need to travel and work. They get that I need to step away from the dinner table if there’s a breaking news story or another urgent matter that needs my attention. And I’m blessed with colleagues who understand that if we all support each other, especially at a well-resourced news organization like CNN, we can each get time we need for ourselves and for friends and family.    

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the newsroom?

Women get over analyzed. For speaking up too much. For not speaking up enough. For their appearance and demeanor. It happens at work and everywhere else. And sometimes, women over analyze themselves on those same fronts. All of this happens far more with women than with men.

It’s so important to be self-aware, but there’s a balance in not getting twisted around the axel about anything that’s not a matter of life or death. We all have our good and bad moments. Recognize them for what they are and move on.

And another “biggest issue” for women… I find that women don’t advocate for themselves in the same way men do. I’ve seen this throughout my 20+ years in journalism. More men, by far, push for what they want and need. More men tell their story of their success in big and small ways.

It’s on leaders of all genders today to recognize that and encourage and engage with those women who aren’t speaking up. And it’s on those women to speak up, or lean in, shall we say.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

I believe in a broad definition of mentorship. I have never had a single mentor who I schedule regular check ins with to help me with career goals. But I’ve had strong relationships with most of my bosses, and I’ve cultivated relationships with inspiring people at work and outside of work. The best of those relationships are symbiotic, rather than a ‘What Can You Do For Me’ positioning. I’m always a little flummoxed when someone comes to me and asks if I can be their mentor. What is it they want, what are their needs/goals?  I favor a practical approach of taking a specific issue or concern, listening, asking questions and helping someone to sort through it.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

I’m fascinated by Indra Nooyi. It’s been reported that she writes letters to the parents of her top performers.

I admire women on and around my team and learn from them every day – Mitra Kalita, Samantha Barry, Rachel Smolkin, Cathy Straight, Sara Pratley, Nitya Chambers, Wendy Brundige, Inky Thordar, Jan Winburn, Deb Rayner, Virginia Moseley, Brooke Baldwin… I am leaving out way, way too many people at CNN who inspire me and who happen to be women.

I admire women I’ve worked with in the past for both personal and professional reasons like Fiona Spruill at MeetUp, Shannon Connolly at New York Public Radio, Katie Hawkins-Gaar at Poynter, Kate Aurthur and Dao Nguyen at Buzzfeed, Emily Bell at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Jane McDonnell formerly of ONA, Cory Haik at Mic, Janelle Rodriguez at NBC… again, I’m leaving out too many people.

 What do you want CNN to accomplish in the next year?

I have three goals:

Break more news. More investigating, more scooping, more unique stories from hard news to incredible innovative storytelling that audiences love and want to share.

Be a resounding #1 on mobile. The race is tight right now between CNN, The Washington Post and The New York Times.

Seize the opportunity outside of the US in a more intentional way. CNN is a global news organization with a global audience at a critical time in the world. 

These are my goals for the whole team, and they mirror the goals that my bosses have set for the entire organization.

That strategic alignment married to measurable goals is a wonderfully clarifying thing to have, especially in this frenetic news cycle.

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