Gus Kenworthy
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It’s
Lovely at the Top

It’s
            Lovely at the Top

Randy lovely is
trying hard not to think about how many Weight Watchers
points he just blew. Days before our interview he indulged
in a newsroom potluck of chili and chicken wings.
Still, it was worth it, particularly since it helped
fuel a marathon work weekend of top-notch news coverage
while the whole world was watching.

On February 1,
2008, Randy Lovely became the most powerful openly gay
print journalist in the country when he was promoted to
editor and vice president for news at The Arizona
Republic
in Phoenix. His first weekend as the big
boss happened to fall on one of the most stressful
weekends in the paper’s history, one with the
potential to turn into a super mess. Phoenix was
playing host to Super Bowl XLII, in which the New York
Giants scored an eleventh-hour upset victory over the New
England Patriots. Meanwhile, Arizona senator and
Republican presidential hopeful John McCain campaigned
feverishly in advance of Super Tuesday, when a
record-setting 24 states would hold primaries and caucuses.
And professional golf’s super-size FBR Open was
teeing off in nearby Scottsdale.

For three years
prior to his promotion, Lovely was executive editor at
The Arizona Republic, ranked among the top 20
U.S. newspapers by daily circulation. (Its parent
company, Gannett Co. Inc., the largest newspaper
publisher in the United States, owns 85 newspapers,
including USA Today.) Lovely’s new
position earned him not only a reserved parking spot
but a coveted Monday-through-Friday schedule -- a rarity in
the world of journalism.

While Lovely
insists he’s always fought the tendency to become
work-obsessed -- even his partner swears he checks his
BlackBerry only twice a weekend and leaves it at home
when they go on vacation -- that pressure-cooker debut
weekend demanded something different. Lovely knew it
was critical for him to be in the newsroom -- in charge and
in person -- to oversee his staff, which he proudly
says performed brilliantly. And by all accounts, so
did he. Weathering the baptism by fire in stride,
Lovely’s paper came out without a hitch.

“I know a
moment will certainly come when I just stand there and say
‘Oh, shit,’ but fortunately that
hasn’t happened yet,” says the 20-year
veteran of journalism. “I’m decisive. You
can’t be wishy-washy in this business.”
And like any good leader, he knows the power of having
strong backup. “I’m prepared as I can
possibly be, but I also make sure I have a great team
of editors around me,” Lovely says. “I feel
very comfortable reaching out and asking their
advice—the day of the autocratic editor is long
gone.”

Secretly, Lovely,
who describes himself as shy, may have been grateful
that the whirlwind of breaking news deflected attention from
his appointment as the only openly gay top editor of a
major U.S. daily newspaper. However, he has been
touched by the glowing reaction to his promotion.
“I have gotten about 200 e-mails from GLBT
journalists alone. People I don’t know reached
out to me. It’s overwhelming,” says the
43-year-old. “My family was elated, even if
I’m not entirely sure Mom and Dad fully
understand what it is that I do. They still ask when
I’m going to replace Dan Rather.”

Lovely has
devoted more than 20 years to a career he first discovered
by default back in junior high. “My older
brother had made a really cool chess set out of wood
and I wanted to do that,” Lovely remembers. So he
signed up for woodshop, but the elective was full. Instead
he got a journalism class. “I fell in love with
it immediately,” he says.

Since then he has
deftly worked his way up the ladder at seven different
newspapers, including The Desert Sun in Palm Springs,
Calif., and The [Shreveport, La.] Times,
and continued his love affair with journalism.
“I love knowing things before anyone else,” he
says. “I love the access to
information.” Yet despite his passion for the job,
the newsman says he didn’t foresee the
voice-mail message from Arizona Republic
publisher John Zidich asking him to come to his office.
“I was stunned,” says Lovely. During
their conversation Lovely learned that his
predecessor, Ward Bushee, was leaving his post to take the
editor’s job at the San Francisco
Chronicle
and that “the job was mine if I
wanted it.”

His gut instinct
told him to take the weekend and talk it over with his
partner of seven years, John Sallot. “I don’t
make these decisions in a vacuum anymore,”
Lovely says. He knew the job would mean big
responsibilities, including managing a staff of 400 and a
daily readership of more than 430,000. As soon as he
consented, his promotion made headlines around the
world.

Lovely started
coming out to colleagues in the late ’80s when he was
at The News-Sentinel in Fort Wayne, Ind.
Surprisingly, he didn’t encounter much trouble.
“Newsrooms are unique places,” he explains.
“As long as you do good work, that’s
what matters.” But Lovely really came out, he
says, when he was 26 and working at the
Press-Telegram in Long Beach, Calif. It was
there that his soon-to-be best friend, Billy Moody,
who in those days considered himself “the welcoming
committee for Long Beach,” walked up to him in
a bar. They started chatting and haven’t
stopped talking since.

Before Moody took
him to his first gay pride celebration in Long Beach,
Lovely had “only seen newspaper articles about pride.
He’d never been to one,” says Moody, who
noticed the look of surprise on his friend’s face
as they walked around. “He finally commented about
how normal everyone looked,” Moody remembers.
“Men held hands, couples were everywhere -- and
yet all he ever saw in the newspaper were photos of the
extremes.” Lovely went back to the newsroom and
talked to people about it, and sure enough, the
following year the p paper’s pride coverage improved
greatly.

Moody relocated
to Phoenix in 2007 at Lovely’s urging. “I went
through a bad breakup about five years ago and had
moved back to the East Coast, but I was
miserable,” says Moody. So Lovely invited Moody to
live with him and his partner. With Lovely’s
support, Moody was able to find a good job in human
resources with Target Corp. “Randy is someone I can
pick up the phone and call and he will drop
everything, no matter how busy he is, and say
‘OK, let’s talk,’ ” Moody
says.

While the best
friends started out as polar opposites (Moody, outspoken
and liberal; Lovely, a little reserved and conservative),
Moody thinks that all of their late-night talks have
brought them more to the center on issues. However,
they’re never at a loss of topics to discuss as they
float around Lovely’s pool -- particularly since
Moody doesn’t read the newspaper. “I get
my news online or from TV,” he admits sheepishly.

But Lovely knows
that non–newspaper readers like Moody are rewriting
the history of traditional journalism. With this in
mind, he’s pushing to transform The Arizona
Republic
into a multiplatform information center,
including its website, a mobile news service, five
magazines, and 15 community newspapers -- all in addition
to the regular newspaper, and all with a local focus.

“It’s not just the chicken dinner–type
stuff,” Lovely clarifies. “We do great
watchdog work. The key to success now is to try and do it
all.” Which includes covering Arizona’s
vibrant gay community, though Lovely says it is
essential to keep his personal feelings out of the coverage:
“I’d be a failure as a journalist if I
didn’t separate myself personally and
professionally from what we cover.”

While he
can’t turn the paper, which endorsed George Bush in
2000 and 2004, into The Advocate, being gay
does lend Lovely a heightened awareness of newsroom
diversity. And he’s thankful there are so many
other gay employees at the paper. “I am not the token
gay person in my newsroom,” he says. “So I
don’t have to be the one person that educates
everyone about the gay community.” And simply being
out in such a high-level position has already made a
difference. Lovely serves on several company-wide task
forces, where he has had the “good
fortune” to be in a position to “bend the ear
of people in positions of power.”

“I
certainly wasn’t shy about expressing my thoughts on
the subject of domestic-partnership benefits,”
he says of conversations he had with Gannett’s
top brass. “I told them it’s what we need to
do to be an employer of choice in our
community.” Not coincidentally, Gannett’s gay
employees finally were given that option in 2002.

Before landing a
job with Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Garden,
Lovely’s partner, John Sallot, signed up for
the benefits. They were a real life preserver, Lovely
says, but he admits they’re not cost-effective for
his family, because the benefits still cost more for
gay couples than for married couples. “Like
with so many other things,” he says,
“we’ll keep plugging away and hopefully
change that issue.”

Successes like
these have made Sallot proud of Lovely, even before the
groundbreaking promotion. “Making history --
isn’t that what the guys in white wigs and
horses do?” Sallot asks, laughing. “I know
it’s a big deal, even if he’s very
modest about it. But no matter how much attention he
gets for it, I’ll still make him take out the
trash.”

There are no
white wigs in sight, but “Randy just shattered the
pink ceiling,” says Eric Hegedus, president of
the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association,
an organization Lovely has belonged to since 1999.
“His promotion really is a big deal for all of us in
journalism.” In 1990, NLGJA founder Roy Aarons
became the first high-level editor at a major
metropolitan newspaper to come out when he announced to a
roomful of journalists at an American Society of
Newspaper Editors conference that he was gay. The
difference? He had already been on the masthead at
The Oakland Tribune for seven years.

As the first out
journalist to be tapped for the top spot, Lovely
represents an important evolution in gay visibility.
“I know Roy would have been so proud of
Randy,” says Hegedus. Lovely, who met the late
Aarons at an NLGJA convention years ago, especially
appreciates the compliment. “I’m
certainly proud to be the first,” he says, though he
admits the pride is bittersweet. “I hope there comes
a day soon when it’s not such a novelty that a
gay man gets promoted to such a position.”

Tags: World, World

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