Bill Adee, Chicago Tribune’s Digital Guru, on Social Media


Bill Adee is Chicago Tribune Media Group VP of digital development and operations. Adee graduated from Northwestern University, and prior to joining the Sun-Times in 1988 via the Los Angeles Daily News, he worked at the Akron Beacon Journal, Virginian-Pilot, Milwaukee Sentinel, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald. He became sports editor of the Sun-times in 1993, then joined the Tribune in 2002.  Four years later, he made the leap from sports and became the paper’s associate managing editor for innovation, and then became editor of digital media.

Currently, Adee is editor of digital media. Ebyline asked him about transitioning from print to web, using social media, and more.

You used to be a sports editor and now you’re the digital mastermind for the Chicago Tribune. How did you make that segue? Did you pick it up on your own as a hobby and then spearhead the movement?

Sports tended to head toward the internet pretty quickly in general, because there were so many niche sports that weren’t getting the attention in mainstream media areas that fans wanted. That might be one reason. I always had an interest in the internet and computers. I really enjoyed being a sports editor, but I also knew that I wanted to be at the forefront of whatever newspaper newsrooms were going to do online, so I was more than happy to make the switch.

Where did the inspiration for ChicagoNow come from?  

The inspiration was really – you know, if you did everything the opposite of what the Chicago Tribune would do, what would that look like? And so that’s how we ended up with ChicagoNow. That was true for the kinds of people we recruited who were by and large not journalists, but they were experts in whatever area we recruited them for. It also went to how we structured our contacts with the bloggers and website copywriting services – they own all the rights to their content, which is something that we don’t do in a freelance agreement [for print]. The other inspiration is really that there was a lot of great stuff going on in the Chicago web community that I thought we were missing out on, and this was a way of connecting those two things.

What is a typical day like for you now, or what are some of the things you’re working on these days?

During a typical day or week for me these days, I spend a lot of time focused on the Chicago Tribune’s site, what we’re going to look like on mobile devices; I spend a lot of time on our shopping site and I spend a lot of time thinking about how we can help local businesses navigate their digital future. Whether it be offering them social media help or search engine optimization or building a website for them, those are some of the areas of focus for me.

In the first few years that you were doing this, what were the biggest projects to overhaul the digital presence of the Tribune?

For me, the first year was spent hopefully learning and listening to the people who had spent many years working on and learning from them. You think many ideas from the print world can apply in digital, and they don’t. You have to, hopefully, listen to the people around you and their good advice. Every once in a while you don’t, and then you either win or lose. I think my job early on was somewhat as an interpreter for the rest of the newsroom and helping them understand how the website works and coming up with better ways to involve the newsroom so that we could grow faster. I think that was probably how I spent the first year, definitely, and I’d say the second year I spent focused on social media, because Twitter was starting to blossom – this would have been 2007 – Facebook and all that, and just learning how we would intersect with social media sites.

What are some of the biggest things that still have yet to be done?

Well, I don’t think we’re ever finished. There’s never going to be a time when we feel, “mission accomplished,” right? That’s never going to happen. But, if I were to say what I’m focused on, is what people are going to want on devices beyond the phone – so tablets, connective TVs, I think that’s an area that I spend a lot of time thinking about. We’re always concerned about, are we doing as much as we can to optimize the revenue for all of our products? What kind of content should we be focused on creating? Those are the two sides of the equation.