The Daily Pennsylvanian Board of Directors is thrilled to announce the hiring of Deborah Howlett as the organization’s next General Manager. She will succeed the irreplaceable Eric Jacobs, who is retiring after an astonishing 40 years working for the DP.
Howlett worked for 25 years as a journalist, including 18 years at USA Today. She has been teaching journalism for the past 10 years, the last three also serving as the faculty adviser to the student newspaper at the University of Delaware.
Although her hiring amounts to a bittersweet moment when the DP will be saying goodbye to Jacobs, it also represents an exciting opportunity to tackle the challenges of running a modern news organization in fresh and creative ways.
“I am beyond excited to join The Daily Pennsylvanian and work with some of the most dedicated and talented student journalists in the country,” Howlett said after accepting the job. “This role at the DP offers a singular opportunity to combine my passion for journalism and teaching with my experience in nonprofit management in ways that will sustain the organization and continue its historic legacy.”
“These are challenging and exciting times for news outlets, especially print publications, as journalism evolves and we find new ways of reaching audiences and shaping our democracy,” Howlett said. “There is no better laboratory than the student press and The Daily Pennsylvanian is uniquely positioned to take advantage of the times and lift up the next generation of journalists.”
Howlett will work closely with Jacobs in the coming months to ensure a smooth transition.
“I am delighted to hand over management and oversight of the DP to Deb,” Jacobs said. “She won everyone over with her warmth and everything she has accomplished in her career so far.” Jacobs will remain at the DP over the next few months doing training and transferring his knowledge to bring Howlett up to speed, and will then continue in a limited part-time role as an adviser through next summer.
The search for a new General Manager began last year with the formation of a search committee consisting of students and alumni. It was delayed for nearly three months by coronavirus shutdowns. The search committee finally completed its interviews and unanimously selected Howlett as its first choice. The Board of Directors made the selection official a short time later.
DP Alumni Association President Amy Gardner, who served on the search committee, said Howlett seemed like just the right person to lead the DP through the next wave of change facing the journalism world.
“The Daily Pennsylvanian faces the same complex challenges of many 21st century news organizations: how to deliver relevant news on digital platforms in creative and compelling ways; how to retain readers and advertisers; and perhaps most importantly of all, how to accurately reflect the complexity, diversity and humanity of the world — in our case, the Penn community — in our daily report,” Gardner said. “We are thrilled that Deb has agreed to join the DP to help navigate our student-run organization through these challenges. Deb is a seasoned journalist, an experienced manager and a warm and empathetic teacher. Her passion for student journalism will be obvious to all who meet her, and will quickly leave a mark on our beloved DP.”
“Over the past few years, Eric has been working closely with the Board of Directors to ensure a smooth transition to life ‘post-EJ,’” said Chuck Cohen, lead alumni director on the DP Board and another member of the search committee. “Eric was 100% focused on ensuring that we selected the right professional to succeed him, and he was selfless in putting his own retirement on hold until we completed the process. We’re all excited that we can now execute a smooth transition, and Eric can continue to serve the DP on a part-time basis for the next year.” Regarding Howlett, Cohen said, “The entire committee was very impressed with Deb’s journalism credentials and her dedication to student media. We believe she’s got the right combination of experience and vision to lead the organization into the choppy waters ahead.”
Isaballa Simonetti, the student President of the DP and another member of the search committee, echoed the praise for both Jacobs and Howlett: “Eric’s more than 40-year legacy at The Daily Pennsylvanian leaves impossibly big shoes to fill. That said, I am confident that Deb will do an excellent job. Her extensive journalism experience paired with her enthusiasm and passion for educating the next generation of journalists make Deb a great selection for the DP’s new General Manager. I am very excited to have the opportunity to work with her.”
The DP Board wants to thank the student and alumni members of the search committee, who worked tirelessly shaping a job description, reading resumes, and conducting phone and online interviews. In addition to Cohen, Gardner, Simonetti and Jacobs, the committee included alum Peter Canellos, student Board member Alec Druggan, and Sarah Fortinsky, who started on the committee as a student representative but had graduated and become an alumna by the time the committee finished its work.
Howlett got her start in journalism serving as the editor-in-chief of her college newspaper, the Oregon Daily Emerald at the University of Oregon. The Emerald, like the DP, is an independent corporation, and the two organizations are quite similar in size and operation.
After college, she landed a summer internship at the Salem, Oregon Statesman-Journal, which turned into a full-time position as a sports reporter, education writer, and politics and government reporter.
She spent the next 18 years working for USA Today covering national and international news. She became the Chicago Bureau Chief and covered two Super Bowls, eight political conventions, four hurricanes, two earthquakes, the O.J. Simpson murder trial, the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building and the aftermath of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. Her international assignments included covering conflicts in Afghanistan, Haiti, Iraq, Kosovo, Rwanda and Zaire.
She moved to New Jersey, where she still resides, to cover state government and politics for the Newark Star-Ledger for five years. She decided to take a break from journalism and spent a few years as a communications director for the governor’s office, but decided working in the world of politics wasn’t for her. “After working in newsrooms for more than 20 years, the pace of government seemed incredibly slow,” she said.
For the next several years, she served as executive director of NJ Policy Perspective, the leading tax, budget and social welfare policy think tank in the state. She managed a small staff and was responsible for fundraising and overseeing editorial production.
During that time, she became a part-time lecturer at the Rutgers University School of Communication and Information, teaching digital media and political and government reporting. She formed her own consulting company focused on building multi-media and social media capacity to small non-profits in the state.
Three years ago, she took a full-time position at the University of Delaware as an instructor in the English department teaching journalism. She taught courses that ranged from introductory news writing and editing to sports writing, social journalism, and the role of journalism in a free society. Part of her job was advising The Review, the editorially-independent student newspaper.