Meet the new SNPA president

Thomas A. Silvestri


Tom Silvestri's career as a journalist shares roots in the same fertile ground from which many other journalists' careers sprouted: in homes that always had newspapers around.

For Silvestri, who grew up in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., that meant regularly seeing one of the New York City dailies his father, a policeman, carried home after work, or reading the local newspaper to which his family subscribed. In the Silvestri home, newspapers were valued tools; his grandfather, an immigrant, learned to speak and write English by reading the sports section of the New York Daily News.

"I entered college as an accounting and computer science major, but the campus newspaper at Pace University in Pleasantville, N.Y., invited me to join the staff," Silvestri said. "I was hooked after that. Some athletes are gym rats because they're working out morning, noon and night. I was a newsroom creature. That's become my education, energy, excitement and emotional quotient. Where else could you get a front-row seat on life?"

SNPA President Tom Silvestri has three immediate goals:

  • Creating a mentoring program that links experienced leaders with up-and-comers.
  • Establishing an open forum at each of SNPA's gatherings so publishers can have inspiring conversations and exchanges with their colleagues.
  • Working with SNPA's staff to advance a new strategic plan now being formulated.
The new president of the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association is publisher of the 152,446-circulation (Sunday) Richmond Times-Dispatch.  And, he is looking forward to helping SNPA members continue to grow and excel.

It will be a challenge, but Silvestri is no stranger to that. Whether pursuing a great story, developing a content-sharing network for dozens of daily and weekly newspapers, or serving as the first publisher of The Times-Dispatch outside of its family ownership in more than 100 years, he has built a career marked by success at every stop.

Silvestri holds a bachelor's degree from Pace University in Pleasantville, N.Y., and an MBA from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. He began his career as a reporter and editor at Gannett before joining Media General in 1982 at The Times-Dispatch. For 16 years he was an editor at the paper before being chosen as director of news synergy and editor of the Media General Newsbank, a shared-content network for the company's newsrooms. He later became senior vice president and then president of community newspapers for Media General before returning to The Times-Dispatch in 2005 as publisher. He's been there ever since, all the way through the 2012 sale of the Times-Dispatch and 62 other Media General publications to BH Media Group, the newspaper operating company of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway.

The initial lure of a career as a journalist has never worn away for Silvestri, even as he has transitioned from editorial into management. It's still about "the never-ending challenges, the pursuit of great stories and solutions, and the positive affect we can have on an engaged community – even when we're reporting negative news via our role as a public watchdog," he said.

Working with newspapers of different sizes during his career has given Silvestri a unique perspective on the industry. "It helps to know what's really different and what's, basically, the same when you have news companies of varying sizes and shapes," he said. "It takes just as much management firepower and effort to run a metro newspaper with a big staff as it does a weekly with a tiny crew. I've never use the word 'small' when it comes to community newspapers. That adjective just doesn't work."

That kind of experience and perspective is just one reason that Silvestri often is sought by industry groups such as SNPA to speak and lead discussions. Another is a positive, infectious attitude about the future of newspapers.

As the industry continues to recover from years of recession, Silvestri said newspapers must:

  • Believe in themselves and their communities.
  • Focus on the customer/reader in all decisions.
  • Encourage their employees – especially during the rough spots – and congratulate them heartily during the successful times.
  • Beat out the complexities and get back to the simple: great products, great service, great attitudes and great people.

"I've learned to start perspectives with the glass half-filled, rather than half-empty, focusing first on strengths to begin any conversation," he said. "Every day, it takes only one great story or one great ad sale to be a game-changer. How many days are lost with long lists of average or mediocre results?"

Silvestri has long looked to SNPA for best practices and great ideas, as well as opportunities to network with interesting people and to collaborate with other publishers who excel in their markets. Now, just as he had mentors in past leaders such as Graham Woodlief, Reid Ashe and Stewart Bryan, he looks to provide that same kind of leadership and fellowship to others during the next year – if they're willing to make the effort.

"I respectfully ask all SNPA members to adopt a simple discipline to stay closer to the organization: Carve out 10 minutes each day for an SNPA moment and engage with SNPA – look at the website, read the weekly newsletter, email an SNPA publisher, call a friend, send in an idea, reach out to the SNPA staff with a question or involve a colleague at work with an SNPA activity," he said. "We all can give 10 minutes each day. Imagine at the end of the year how they'll add up. I've started to do that, and it's amazing what benefits occur."

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