Sherri Dalphonse was named the new editor of Washingtonian on Monday. Washingtonian Media CEO Cathy Merrill told staffers the news in an all-hands meeting Monday and followed the announcement with a memo that noted Dalphonse, currently Washingtonian‘s executive editor, will be the first woman at the top of the masthead in the 57-year-old publication’s history and only its fifth editor over all, and that women will now head both the publication’s editorial and sales teams.
Dalphonse has been at Washingtonian since January 1986, when she took an internship that ended in a job offer to be an assistant editor overseeing the magazine’s service journalism. At the time, service was a much smaller part of Washingtonian‘s editorial mix, but it eventually became one of its most durable and popular offerings. Recurring packages like Top Doctors, Tech Titans, and Washingtonian‘s lists of Very Best Restaurants and bargain restaurants are among its most-read features and usually occupy ten of the print magazine’s covers each year. Jack Limpert, who edited the magazine from 1969-2009, “was an early convert to the idea that magazines should not only be informative and entertaining but that they should be things that people save,” Dalphonse says.
The print magazine still provides the majority of Washingtonian Media’s revenue, and Dalphonse says it doesn’t need a whole lot of tinkering: “I think the magazine is already pretty terrific, so I don’t envision a lot of big wholesale changes at all,” she says. “We have to double down on the things we do well now. Continue to do smart service, do a little more of it online, and remind people that this is the magazine that Washington lives by, literally—they save these stories and return back to them.”
As is the case at most publications, the company’s digital platforms now reach more people than its printed magazine—it had more than 3 million page views and nearly 2 million unique visitors in April, and users spent an average of more than three-and-a-half minutes on each page. (The most recent report from the Circulation Verification Council lists Washingtonian‘s net print circulation as 99,188 in June 2021.) It’s seen strong growth on social platforms like Instagram and TikTok, where it had more than a million video views last month. But such an audience can be fleeting, and Dalphonse believes video could be one key to converting them to regular readers. She cites celebrity chef José Andrés’s cooking videos in the early days of the pandemic as the type of content that helped her feel “more connected in a city that was shut down.” Dalphonse plans to encourage Washingtonian staffers to take video when they’re out and about but doesn’t see video being “the only part of our strategy,” she says, “We’re not going to be YouTube.”
Dalphonse hopes to add more coverage of areas like the Washington tech industry—the Tech Titans list is often a source for stories, she notes, and it’s the type of feature that “also gets more people in the magazine.” She plans to “evaluate the staffing and the structure” of the edit team a bit to make sure the articles she oversaw as executive editor remain under cover. The magazine is searching for a features editor to oversee its longform news coverage, for instance, and Dalphonse says “some new hires” are coming, including for her old job title. She has been Washingtonian’s interim editor since her predecessor, Michael Schaffer, left for Politico at the end of last year. An informal poll of staffers indicated that Dalphonse’s selection was a popular choice.
“I’m really excited to take on this new role,” Dalphonse says. “I’m very honored that the magazine put its faith and trust in me, and I’ve got such a great team that it makes working here easier and such a pleasure.”
Here’s Merrill’s memo:
As I said on the call this morning I am delighted to announce that our next editor-in-chief will be Sherri Dalphonse. She will be only the fifth editor in Washingtonian’s 57-year-history and the first-ever woman editor-in-chief. We are one of a very small number of woman-owned media companies and we now proudly have women leading both editorial and sales!
Sherri will oversee all editorial content for print and online. Beyond her exceptional professionalism, I chose Sherri because I deeply value her thoughtful insight, her candid feedback, and her ability to maintain calm under pressure. A Washingtonian veteran of more than 35 years, she has been a trusted resource to many. She served as counsel to our long-time editor Jack Limpert and, as executive editor, she was a right hand to Michael Schaffer. Most importantly, she is someone whom I have trusted and relied on for help and feedback for the past 16 years. Sherri also came with the recommendation of the entire leadership team. In addition, I want to thank so many of her colleagues who reached out on her behalf.
For those of you unfamiliar with Sherri’s background: She graduated from Syracuse University and lives in the District of Columbia. She started at the Washingtonian in 1986 as an editorial intern, working her way up the masthead. She has won a number of awards for her work, including several from the City and Regional Magazine Association. Over the years, she has been the editor in charge of such consumer topics as travel, fitness, health, and finance, as well as the editor who handles such cover stories as Best of Washington, Day Trips, Hidden Gems, Top Doctors, and Great Small Towns. In other words, she knows service, which is at the heart of everything we do to ensure we are delivering on our mission to help readers get the most out of living in Washington.
Finally, I want to say that even though Sherri has been with us for a long time, I feel so much pride and excitement to have her in this new role. I am very grateful for how she has steered the company these past four months and I speak for the entire leadership team when I say we are all looking forward to the opportunity to continue working with her on our exciting future going forward.
Please join me in congratulating Sherri!!