Sun Journal Web Editor Carl Natale

LEWISTON — Carl Natale is the Sun Journal’s web editor.

He loves data.

He loves breaking news.

He loves pizza.

He loves dogs.

He loves politics.

He breathes Star Trek

His favorite word is mayhem.

On Saturday, Natale was named the Maine Press Association’s Unsung Hero for his always ready assistance to the newsrooms staff, including help with technology, story development, digital storytelling and audience engagement.

The award was presented by Larry Gilbert, a former Sun Journal audience engagement editor and recipient of last year’s MPA Unsung Hero Award.

Carl is “devoted to journalism and he’s dedicated to the job,” according to Executive Editor Judith Meyer.

“If he’s asked to serve on a committee, he’ll do it. If a reader is having trouble logging on to our site, he’ll patiently help them connect. If a reporter is having trouble filing a story into our database, he – just as patiently – will guide them through. If he hears scanner traffic on breaking news and there’s no reporter in the newsroom, he’ll confirm the information and quickly post a story. If someone comes in the front door with a complaint and I’m not available, he’ll meet with that person and sooth their concerns. If reader comments get out of hand on social media, he’ll pop in and police the trouble,” she said.

“I can’t remember an election night he didn’t work or a training session he wasn’t willing to present. He has masterfully converted our staff from a print culture into a digital first environment, coaching and cheering every step of the way.”

And, since March 31 of this year – when it became clear that the Sun Journal newsroom would be working remotely for the near future – he started crafting morning staff memos that have become a daily dose of humor, compliments, analytics, reminders and notes.

On the Monday following Easter, after 24 hours without power at home, Natale’s memo started with an image of a golden retriever sitting on a porch with a thought bubble that read: “#coronavirus has turned us all into dogs. We roam the house all day looking for food. We’re told ‘no’ if we get too close to strangers. And we get really excited about car rides.”

Several days later, the daily memo carried a more serious tone, with this suggestion to staff: “It’s important for everyone to take care of their physical and emotional health. Some interesting reading from The Ground Truth Project: Confronting the emotional toll of covering COVID-19.”

Last Thursday, in his memo pointing to a PolitiFact list of trusted sources for election news and results, Natale included an image of eight dogs and one cat seated around a conference table. One of the dogs was noting that “coronavirus worked because all of our humans are staying home with us.” The cat asked “Why was my department not consulted on this?”

Natale’s playful observation? “Yeah, right. Like cats would go to a meeting.”

These memos are a steady stream of reminders on Associated Press style, how to best present images and additional content in each story, observations on trends and suggestions for localizing national stories. And, while most of the memos are light-hearted and informative, there is always a recognition that what we do matters to our readers and every journalist on staff is working toward the common goal of informing and engaging our communities, even when the news is bad, Meyer said.

In April, the day after the digester explosion at the paper mill in Jay, Natale’s memo was filled with praise for the staff.

“That was phenomenal work everyone. Donna (Perry), Andree (Kehn) and Russ (Dillingham) jumped into the front lines of yesterday’s mill explosion to keep feeding us info and photos. Larry (Gilbert) mined social media. Reporters stopped what they were doing to add research and content. And Mark (LaFlamme) did a beautiful rewrite. We dominated the coverage,” he wrote.

The explosion was devastating to the physical plant at the mill, but it was also devastating for employees and for local communities that depend on the success of the mill and the jobs it supports, and staff recognized that.

Natale went on to compare the process of reporting breaking news when staff is in the newsroom to the current norm of journalists working remotely, which can make communication a little tricky, but “that didn’t stop us from reporting a huge story as it happened with professionalism and urgency,” he wrote.

That message and daily messages of support for staff have really helped our journalists work better in their remote environments, which has served our readers well, Meyer said. “Carl is not just a cheerleader, though, he’s a doer, a fixer and a motivator.”

“Carl routinely shares notes from Poynter’s daily COVID-19 briefing, which is a resource for journalists reporting on the pandemic, boiling the information down to what is relevant for our staff,” Meyer said, which helps keep us focused on what we cover and how we cover it, and how local journalists are doing the same across the country.

A true fan of the 1980s television show “Hill Street Blues,” Natale has borrowed a line from the fictional Sgt. Phil Esterhaus to close each memo: “Let’s be careful out there.”

And, he signs each memo as Carl Natale — The Duke of URL. (That’s web editor humor.)

Natale, who is a former online editor, deputy sports editor and news editor for the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel, and a former content producer for MaineToday.com, is a graduate of Miami University with a bachelor’s degree in accountancy and associate’s degree in political science. He has been with the Sun Journal for the past decade, and is a former advisory board member to the University of Southern Maine’s student newspaper, the Free Press.

According to Meyer, “Carl has always been a lifeline for everyone in the newsroom and for our readers who struggle to navigate the web. He’s been in the business long enough to boast a wealth of knowledge and skills without having succumbed to cynicism or apathy. And, for these past many months when our newsroom staff has been working from home, he’s been indefatigable in his work, his mirth and his messaging.”

She said, “It’s been a great way to start every day, and a solid boost to newsroom morale to see the analytics, recognize the growth in digital readers and understand which stories are prompting new subscriptions, to be reminded of basic workflow processes to best capture our digital audience and, of course, to smirk at the memes.”

She added, “We don’t always thank him enough for what he does every day, and we’re thrilled to see him recognized by the Maine Press Association with the Unsung Hero Award.”

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