Denise Barnes, publisher of The Washington Informer, was named the Sales and Marketing Innovator of the Year by Local Media Association for consistently demonstrating outstanding performance. She has achieved remarkable results through her creativity, strategic thinking and dedication to excellence.

Each year, the Local Media Sales and Marketing Innovator of the Year award recognizes local media executives who have showcased innovation, resilience and significant achievements in sales or advertising — with the numbers to back it up.

Denise has empowered her team by implementing innovative marketing strategies, and led her team with motivation and deep conviction. Her leadership skills have driven revenue growth and expanded their customer base. Here’s what Denise had to say about her work and her team.

Tell us a little bit about how you got into the industry

My father established The Washington Informer in 1964. The first edition, at 12 pages, was published on Thursday, Oct. 16. I was nine years old then, which leads me to say I was almost born into the industry. It was my only summer job from the fifth grade and beyond, and looking back, I think I played a crucial role in The Informer’s early days without knowing it. I answered the phones, took check deposits to the bank, and maintained a log of the ads, including the dates they ran, the size, and the cost. I also typed enough labels for the annual subscriber list. Understand that this was before computers, copiers and electric typewriters. My father called it busy work, which kept me busy for a week. With nothing more to type for the rest of the summer, I began typing stories, which helped launch my interest in journalism.

What makes you excited about the local media industry?

What excites me about the local media industry is knowing that there are not enough stories to tell or angles from which to tell them. I have a burgeoning lust for history which exposes me to so many stories behind the stories we know so well. Every day we read or hear news about the shifts taking place politically, economically, and in the areas of health, the environment, and civil and human rights. As a local media organization, I ask myself and my staff, “What do these issues mean, and how do they impact our city, community, and families?” It is our job to find the answers and write the stories that will positively impact our readers. Local media must continue to tell these stories, and as challenging as the times are today, we must not lose our excitement in telling them.

What keeps you up at night about the local media industry?

The boogey-person that creeps into my thoughts at night is this thing called digital transformation. It’s been with us since the early 1990s, and for many of us in the local media, including The Washington Informer, it is a toss-up between a dream and a nightmare. Our print edition is still strong, and many of our readers still enjoy reading the printed paper. But it is clear that our news resonates online, and there is no day we don’t spend learning how to become a better digital news provider. It’s not been easy, and while the digital revenue is growing, we have yet to grow enough revenue to support our operations. My nights are also restless because of my limited ability to manage a digital team. I can produce a newspaper with my eyes closed, but digital is forever changing, and it requires additional technical skills from digital professionals that are not easy to find. I’m optimistic, however, and excited when we try something new and succeed. The failures are lessons, and I spend some of those nights trying to understand what the lesson was.

Where do you see The Washington Informer in the next five years? 10 years?

To be honest, I’m not sure where the Informer will be in the next year. Still, I am encouraged by the number of young people who still believe in journalism, especially those attending our HBCU or who want to focus their journalism on justice and equity. This next generation will define and produce what The Informer will be in the next five or 10 years. We know that while our focus will be on the written word, our storytelling skills, I believe, may also expand to other platforms, including video, documentary films and other publishing projects. I also see greater collaboration between our fellow publishers and organizations that will realize the benefits we offer by working together on projects that meet the needs of our collective audiences.

What are you most proud of that you or The Washington Informer has done?

This year has been record-breaking for The Washington Informer when it comes to the awards we have won, including the Society of Professional Journalists Dateline Awards, the National Newspaper Publishers Association Messenger Awards, and the Maryland, Delaware, D.C. Press Association. It shows that our team is doing great work and making a difference in the community we serve. LMA recognized us as the Digital Innovator of the Year in Sales and Marketing. I am incredibly proud of this honor and the team doing all the work. But what makes me most proud are the risks we have taken to broaden our readership and the modest success we have experienced. Last year, we launched a section called Our Earth, focusing on environmental justice and African Americans’ historical and current roles in the environmental and climate change movement. We are seeing success. We launched a newsletter focusing on Black homeownership. It’s a work in progress, but we’re seeing successes. We disagree with the notion that young people don’t read newspapers, so we published WI Bridge DC, a millennial and Gen-Z-focused publication that’s popular online, but the print editions fly off of the newsstands, and the readers love it. The bottom line is that I am proud of my team, which shows they are willing to try new things and have the tenacity to stick with it even when it feels like we’re losing. We are few but mighty, and I cannot say enough to express that they are the ones that make me most proud of The Washington Informer.