Keeping things in perspective

NEX GEN program helped this digital expert learn more about publishing


Bobby Youngs was an unusual participant in the NEX GEN mentoring program for 2015-2016. He fit the requirements of talent and potential to move up in the newspaper industry. But he was a little light on newspaper experience.

He's worked for just one paper, The Charlotte Observer, and that only since 2014. Now digital sales lead for the newspaper and the person in charge of creative and strategy for its in-house ad agency CLT.Digital, Youngs was hired for his expertise in digital advertising and marketing.

"I did not come up in the newspaper publishing business. I didn't go to journalism school," Youngs said. "Some of the newspaper publishing realities were new to me."

For that reason, one of the benefits of the NEX GEN program for Youngs was learning more about the basics of newspaper publishing and how other newspapers operate. He said his mentor, Steve Dorsey, vice present/innovation and planning at the Austin American-Statesman, "exposed me to other aspects of the industry that I don't know if I would have gotten so quickly."

Youngs said he wanted to go into the creative side of advertising from the time he was a teenager. He majored in art in college and worked in Birmingham and Asheville, N.C., before moving to Charlotte where he was a digital marketing subject matter expert for several companies. Since joining the newspaper, he's been building the new agency and he also goes on sales calls, does training, helps set up ad campaigns and does marketing.

Youngs and another program participant visited Austin together as part of the NEX GEN program. They were able to spend time at the American-Statesman, the GateHouse Media Center for News & Design and OwnLocal in Austin's Capital Factory tech business incubator. Youngs said the Observer is now developing a vendor relationship with one of the companies he encountered at the incubator.

Dorsey found that the lack of newspaper industry experience was something of an advantage for Youngs because he brought fresh ideas to the table. "The reward for me was getting a chance to talk with somebody looking at things from a fresh perspective, bringing a lot of energy and enthusiasm," Dorsey said.

Dorsey said his goal as a mentor is to help his mentee succeed. He puts emphasis on making introductions and helping mentees make connections with others in the industry. He wants young people coming up in the business to learn how to look at the big picture and to stay focused on career goals.

A mentor can offer guidance that is free of what Dorsey called "political, organizational and institutional leverage" that might be present at a mentee's own company. "The program is a unique chance to get to know people you otherwise would not have a chance to spend that kind of time with," he said.

Both Youngs and Dorsey said NEX GEN offers a chance to gain perspective on the industry and on the mentee's own future in the industry. They keep in touch, and Dorsey introduced Youngs to his latest mentee in NEX GEN.

"The best aspect of the program is perspective," Youngs said. "It's easy to live and breathe in our little silos and see the legacy publishing role from our perspective. I think sometimes it can be very enlightening and beneficial to gain the perspective of other people in different markets."

Read about additional NEX GEN participants' experiences:

Submit an application for the 2017-2018 NEX GEN program.

Jane Nicholes

Jane Nicholes is a veteran journalist based in coastal Alabama and is a regular contributor to SNPA. Reach her at

Suggestions for future stories and comments on this piece are welcomed.


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