LAKELAND — An executive editor with a reputation for building audience with a combination of digital savvy and a focus on deep coverage will lead The Ledger's newsroom starting April 2.
Bob Heist, 58, a journalist with more than 30 years of experience in the newspaper industry, will be The Ledger's executive editor. He will be leaving the Northwest Florida Daily News of Fort Walton Beach where he has been the editor since September 2015.
"Bob's business acumen and his proven ability to build 'newsrooms of the future' made him a standout choice," Ledger Publisher Brian Burns said. "As an industry, we need to be capable of delivering our work to audiences — wherever they are or may go — and Bob's digital talents will help The Ledger keep meeting readers with news and advertising that is relevant to them."
Heist will succeed Lenore Devore as The Ledger's top news executive. Devore served in the role for almost seven years — after 23 years with the newspaper — before resigning in January. In the role he will be responsible for managing the newspaper's news report and the journalists who seek out those stories.
Though not among the largest papers owned by Gatehouse Media, The Ledger's parent company, the Northwest Florida Daily News under Heist has consistently drawn one of the largest digital audiences among the more than 140 daily newspapers in Gatehouse's portfolio.
Heist said he hopes to instill a "digital culture" in the paper as a way to "reach all these diverse audiences" with in-depth work that makes a difference in the community.
"The three things we always try to look at: topics that can save a life, change a life or change policy," Heist said. "Some of them go a different direction, but we try to focus on those three things because they usually touch the core of a community."
Using digital publishing tools — and tying it into the print product — can help those stories have greater impact and reach, Heist said.
"I think this is a market where we can make some things really pop," Heist said. "My goal is to elevate what we're doing as a newsroom — and elevate it digitally."
Heist started his newspaper career as the editor of a two-man sports department in the Meadville Tribune in Northwest Pennsylvania in 1984. He was hired to his first executive editor position in 2013 to lead The Baxter Bulletin in Mountain Home, Arkansas.
Heist will be moving to Polk County with his wife, Cathy. The two have three adult children.
The Ledger will be his third newspaper in Florida. He was the top sports editor at the Pensacola News Journal from April 2010 through July 2013. His last day with the Northwest Florida Daily News will be March 30.
Christopher Guinn can be reached at Christopher.Guinn@theledger.com or 863-802-7592.