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Lovely at the Top

Lovely at the Top


Out journalist Randy Lovely takes over as editor at the conservative Arizona Republic and learns firsthand what it means to be a novelty.

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."

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