Ottney takes reins as Toledo Free Press editor in chiefWritten by Staff Reports | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Sarah Ottney, former managing editor of Toledo Free Press, has taken the helm of the award-winning newspaper, the largest circulation paper in Lucas County, starting this week.
Editor in Chief Michael S. Miller, co-founder of the almost 10-year-old paper, vacated the position Oct. 17 for work in the nonprofit sector.
“Michael’s been with the Toledo Free Press since the beginning and really built it from the ground up. He’s been a great boss and mentor and I’m humbled to be entrusted with carrying it forward,” Ottney said.
Miller, who has worked tirelessly as “community ambassador” for the paper, will continue his efforts for the United Way of Greater Cleveland. He moves there with his wife and two sons.
He called Ottney a talented journalist — more naturally gifted than himself — now with managerial experience who can take the helm and continue to steer with quality and integrity but also maneuver in new directions.
“Sarah is so level-headed and moderate in her approach to people,” Miller said. “We’ve been a very good team. We’ve been incredibly lucky to find her.”
Ottney began her tenure at Toledo Free Press four years ago as a staff writer. In 2011, she was promoted to special sections editor and in 2012 became managing editor. She has reported on assignments from New York City, Washington, D.C., and Germany.
“I’m proud of the work Toledo Free Press does and the place it’s carved out for itself in the region,” Ottney said. “The format of a weekly newspaper gives us a chance to dig into topics or different angles of ongoing issues not covered by daily media and our staff works hard to earn and maintain reader interest and loyalty. I love the challenge that provides.”
Miller said he hired Ottney for her exceptional reporting and writing skills. She then proved herself as an excellent designer, editor and leader.
“When you’re talking about a small paper such as ours, it is an extraordinary blessing to have someone who can do those things,” Miller said.
The news team also includes Design Editor James A. Molnar, News Editor Danielle Stanton and Associate Editor Tom Konecny. The paper is also comprised of an advertising sales team, business administration, production and distribution.
Ottney, 30, was born in Toledo and graduated salutatorian of Oak Harbor High School. She majored in English and journalism at Ohio Wesleyan University where she served as editor of the weekly student newspaper. She also interned at New York City book publisher Soho Press.
She worked at the daily South Dakota newspaper Aberdeen American News for three years as a reporter and copy editor. She returned to Toledo for a year with AmeriCorps VISTA.
Toledo Free Press writer and community ombudsman Brandi Barhite, who has worked with Ottney since 2010, said Ottney as managing editor gave her reporters the support they needed to succeed, from help with story ideas to execution to copy editing.
“Sarah is the ultimate newswoman,” Barhite said. “She recognizes news and understands what makes people click on a story or pick up the paper. She isn’t afraid to ask a tough question, but she also knows how to approach difficult topics with tact and sensitivity.”
Ottney was recently named Public Children Services Association of Ohio Journalist of the Year for 2014.
“We nominated Sarah based on the quality of her work,” said Julie Malkin of Lucas County Children Services. “The article she wrote about our two parent partners who have been through the system was very sensitive but told an important story. She didn’t pull any punches. We respect the work that she’s done.”
She was also recently named one of Toledo’s 20 Under 40 winners.
The fact that Ottney is young and literate in social media is good for the paper, Miller said. Her youthful approach will bring a fresh new perspective, he said.
“My hope will be when I pick up Toledo Free Press in six months, I’ll recognize it but also see healthy changes,” he said. “We’ve built [Toledo Free Press] from nothing. We have 10 years of sweat and blood in this newspaper. I can walk away with peace of mind. I have great confidence in her.”
Not once has founder and publisher Tom Pounds interfered in the editorial process, Miller said, adding that it is critical that Pounds’ style of a hands-free directorship continues under Ottney’s reign. Pounds founded the Toledo Free Press in 2005 after leaving The Blade as general manager.
The challenge for Ottney will be how to reach more readership and continue on with the great journalism that Toledo Free Press has established, Miller said.
She plans to continue the paper’s “community ambassadorship” of writing about events passed over by other media.
“One of the classic tenets of journalism is ‘Giving a voice to the voiceless.’ I think Toledo Free Press has done a good job over the years of picking up on events and organizations — particularly new community events like Dine 419 Toledo, Toledo Pride and Toledo SOUP — that weren’t getting much coverage at first and helping to grow them and give them a voice,” Ottney said. “I plan to continue that effort.”