DECATUR – Chris Coates, the new editor of the Herald & Review, is a man with a mission.
He said the vital role of the newspaper is to inform its readers and to stand up for them at the same time, to be their voice and an eternally vigilant watchdog guarding their welfare.
“Watching out for their interest in the government space, in the regulatory space, making sure people are not being abused financially, that sort of thing,” said Coates, 34. “It's about being an advocate for the reader, delivering strong public service journalism.”
Coates, who will start his new job Jan. 3, comes to the Herald & Review with a solid track record. For more than 18 months he served as “watchdog content coach” at The News Journal in Wilmington, Del., overseeing investigative reporting, political and government coverage statewide.
Before that, from 2011 to 2015, he worked with the Sioux City Journal in Iowa, which is owned by Lee Enterprises, the corporate parent of the Herald & Review. Coates started as city editor there and rose to be executive editor, managing newspaper and digital content. His efforts were a two-time winner of the National Newspaper Association General Excellence Award.
He was born in Trenton, Mich., close to Detroit, and earned a degree in journalism from Columbia College in Chicago. After college, he started his journalism career as a staff writer with a weekly newspaper in Los Angeles and went on to work for a business publication in California. He was then named managing editor in 2007 of the Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis, based in Collinsville.
Coates has a lot of experience and expertise in managing and developing digital content for newspapers and said this is the big frontier facing print journalism.
“I think it comes back to some of the basics of strong journalism,” he said of the digital realm. “Being connected with the community, being aggressive, but fair, with watchdog reporting and being smart about how we use our resources. Digital is a huge part of it; it's our future.”
Coates said that wherever readers get their news -- print, online, on their phones -- what matters is the quality of the product that competes for their attention.
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Busy raising two daughters (Carly, 4, and Caden, 2) with his teacher wife, Lisa, Coates wants his children to grow up in a world with journalism they can rely on and trust.
“I think the word 'paper' might not be around when they get to my age,” he said with a laugh. “But I believe the product will still be there, and that is really important. The medium doesn't matter really, it's about the journalism.
"I want my children to have a strong, community news organization that delivers smart, analytical coverage ... and my daughters will be consumers of that coverage, if I have any say in that area.”
The hiring of Coates is seen as a key step in building the future of the Herald & Review, according to Julie Bechtel, the newspaper's publisher.
“The hiring of a new editor for the Herald & Review wasn't a task I took lightly. The editor sets the tone for the newspaper and the way it interacts with the community,” Bechtel said.
“After years of solid newsroom leadership that appreciated what makes the community great, it was important to find someone who could build upon those established relationships and help the Herald & Review meet new challenges. I believe Chris is that person.”
Coates replaces Gary Sawyer, who retired after 15 years as editor and general manager of the Herald & Review.
Coates said he believes good journalism is always worth the extra effort because it makes life better and a good newspaper is still the most effective way to deliver that journalism.
“The mark of a strong community is a strong newspaper,” he said.