Q&A: Suzanne Clark of National Journal Group

In January 2007, Suzanne Clark became president of National Journal Group, whose properties include National Journal, CongressDaily, the Hotline, the Almanac of American Politics, Convention Daily and "Washington Week with Gwen Ifill and National Journal."

Clark, 40, attended Georgetown University's undergraduate program and received an MBA at the school. She began her career in the executive office at the American Trucking Association and left seven years later as its chief of staff. She arrived at National Journal after a decade at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, where she was chief operating officer and executive vice president.

Clark sits on the board of KIPP DC, a network of college-prep charter schools in the District. Clark also works with So Others Might Eat, which helps provide food, housing and other assistance to the poor.
Clark, who lives in Arlington with her husband and 2-year-old daughter, recently answered some timely questions from business staff reporter Thomas Heath.

Going from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to president of a news organization seems an unlikely step. What are the differences between your current job and the last one you held?

The biggest difference between the two organizations is that one offers perspective and the other a point of view. While the Chamber clearly advocates for a particular outcome, National Journal is singularly focused on the quality of the debate and providing the best news and analysis for our readers.
But, there are also more similarities than you might think. Both environments work with ideas and address an amazing range of issues, both domestic and international which has given me a great chance to learn something new every day. And, the success of both is dependent on the identification, recruitment and retention of the most talented people in their fields.
As for my job, in both organizations I have managed people, the development and presentation of ideas, and the use of resources. Although the work products of the Chamber and NJ are distinctly different, there is a similarity to business systems, and in both environments I have continually looked for innovative approaches to enhance the quality of the product and to strengthen the financial platform of the enterprise for the near and long term.

Where do you think media - print, broadcast, Internet - is headed in the next 10 years?

Together.
While some suggest that print will fade as the Internet surges, the multi-media business is not a zero sum game, as some imply. In my view, all will have a role to play five to ten years down the line - however, their roles will likely have a different scale or emphasis. The Internet will grow, broadcast will expand, and print will be an essential part of the portfolio of a sophisticated media organization. But, these are delivery systems, and our core business is content and data that help inform the debate and make our customers smarter. Over the course of the next several years we'll be rolling out alternative uses of information, as well as variety of other ways to analyze, package and deliver the most accurate coverage in Washington. The key will be attracting talent and trusted sources whom people want to follow, read and hear in their preferred format. I see this as a great opportunity for us to build on the long tradition of National Journal Group as a talent magnet.

Where do you get your news?

Everywhere. The problem today isn't that there's not enough information. It's that there's too much. In my job, it's important that I'm on top of current events so I'm regularly checking dozens of websites and blogs, what's happening on cable, and reading traditional newspapers and magazines. We have some of the best journalists in the business right here in the Watergate, so I get a lot of breaking news in the elevator.
The traditional weekly rhythm of print journalism - Newsweek, Time, U.S. News - seems to be ebbing. As a weekly, print publication, what is the National Journal doing to stay relevant?
National Journal's readers are knowledge junkies. They're staying current by reading newspapers and newsletters, watching television and checking out different web sites several times a day. We offer them something different -- we help them make sense of the swirl of news by providing insight, analysis and context. We're committed to investigative journalism. And since we're writing for people with a professional interest in government and politics, we can go into more depth than other publications. National Journal, CongressDaily and Hotline reporters are immersed in the political and policy communities every minute of every day, which provides us the unique ability to observe, analyze and report on that world.
As you know, the news publishing business is facing changes brought on by competition, consolidation, new technology - changes impacting almost all businesses. But, change isn't a threat; it's an opportunity. Publishing firms that are able to innovate, create new products to match the evolving demands of their customers, and develop new revenue streams will be the most successful and relevant.

How do you balance work with taking care of a 2-year-old daughter? Must make for some interesting nighttime reading.

The mother-work balance is, for me, worth every minute of thought and effort because parenting a growing child and managing a growing business are both important and enriching ingredients in my life - in different ways, When I'm at the office or at an event with clients, I'm trying to be the best publishing executive I can be. When I'm at home or at the park, I'm trying to be the best mom I can be. That doesn't say the roles don't blend -- I plead guilty to having read NJ's Insiders Poll aloud to my newborn. She doesn't let me get away with it anymore, so now I read our pubs on my time -- and her books (right now it's one book, A Blue So Blue, over and over again) on her time.

Regarding blogging: How do you strike the balance between the personal pull of the blogger and the importance of the overall National Journal brand? How do you keep a blogger in the stable once he/she gets a reputation of a certain size?

I don't think there's a conflict here. Papers have always had their columnists, radio shows their "name" DJs, TV shows their anchors and popular reporters -- blogging is an extension of that personal voice in a mass medium. It's in the mutual interest of NJ and its reporters, columnists, editors and bloggers to create a connection with readers that endures. And, retaining the best talent is always a key management challenge; keeping your stars happy, satisfied and productive takes a lot of time and creativity. What's fun about today's environment is that talent is coming from everywhere -- not just the traditional journalism schools.

Hotline: How does the Hotline benefit from and/or compete with all the online sources for political gossip/news?

The Hotline is still the go-to, one-stop shopping source of political news. In most other publications, you're not going to be able to get the breadth of coverage that you do in the Hotline - everything from presidential politics to the latest in an Arizona House race. It also has a certain sense of irreverence that makes it distinctive; and you can count on us to continue to find ways to stay competitive.

What is your ringtone?

No special ringtone; no special vanity plates.

Biggest indulgence?

A perfect Saturday: my husband, Greg, takes Elice for a hike while I sleep late and read the papers; later we all go the park for a family adventure (swings for Elice; Frisbee for the black lab); followed by French fries at her favorite fast food restaurant; come home for a family nap followed by a long reading session; later, we put our daughter to bed, thank the babysitter and head out to dinner just the two of us.

Where did you go on your last vacation?

The Exuma Islands (in the Bahamas).

By Terri Rupar  |  May 5, 2008; 10:30 AM ET  | Category:  Media
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