The NMAF is thrilled to announce that Kenny Yum will be the first-ever recipient of the Digital Publishing Leadership Award, an award honouring an individual whose career contributions to Canadian digital publishing deserve recognition and celebration.
This award is the top individual honour in the Digital Publishing Awards, and will be presented to Kenny at the DPA awards soirée on June 1, along with all the other winners of the 2017 Digital Publishing Awards.
Leadership in Canadian digital publishing is a complex algorithm. It’s a function of creativity, innovation, and perseverance. It combines a rigorous commitment to the core principles of journalism with the ability to anticipate and respond to rapidly changing technological and cultural environments. It minimizes fiscal constraints while maximizing audience engagement. And most of all, it creates a diverse and dynamic space to experiment, fail, adapt, persist, and succeed—and to inspire great achievement in others. Perhaps no individual embodies this powerful formula more than Kenny Yum, managing editor of AOL Canada and editor-in-chief of The HuffPost Canada. In 2017, the National Media Awards Foundation is honoured to present him with the inaugural Digital Publishing Leadership Award.
After graduating from Ryerson University, where he was editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, Kenny became an editor at the Toronto Star and later The Globe and Mail, where he helped launch theglobeandmail.com in 2000. In 2007 he joined the National Post as managing editor of digital news, continuing to inspire his colleagues to innovate and grasp the unfolding potential of digital journalism. “Kenny drove the digital agenda at national newspapers long before digital was accepted as a priority, let alone the very future of journalism,” says Brodie Fenlon, CBC’s senior director of digital news. “His influence on website design can still be seen today on a number of sites.”
In 2011, Kenny was hired to launch The HuffPost Canada, the first international bureau of the digital news startup. “We knew that in order to succeed in Canada,” says Nicholas Sabloff, executive editor of international for The Huffington Post, “we needed an editor-in-chief who was not only an accomplished leader and serious journalist, but also someone who would keep the site at the forefront of digital innovation and instill a spirit of experimentation and creativity as part of his team’s DNA.” Kenny Yum, he adds, was top of the list.
Indeed, innovation and experimentation are hallmarks of HuffPost’s success. In Kenny’s newsroom, notes Andree Lau, managing editor of news at HuffPost Canada, “journalists are encouraged to be overly ambitious, granted permission to fail, and praised with genuine admiration when they succeed.” And no matter the initial outcome, say his colleagues, Kenny is quick to remind everyone he works with that success is a product of bold creativity. “From day one,” says Rashida Jeeva, HuffPost Canada’s general manager, “Kenny set the tone for professionalism and quality that continues to shine through.”
The results are as evident as they are remarkable. Huff Post Canada operates in French and English with more than 5 million unique visitors a month, and a total of 9 million monthly including their global properties. “These are challenging times for media organizations,” notes HuffPost’s managing editor of video, Sasha Nagy. “And it is incumbent on all of us to innovate daily in order to connect with a changing readership. It takes editors who are one part web developer and one part wordsmith. This is Kenny Yum.”
Those who’ve worked with Kenny at HuffPost emphasize his commitment to forging a cohesive team that maximizes skills and connections. Mere days before the site’s launch, in May 2011, Kenny literally tore down the walls in the HuffPost newsroom.
“He took one look at the grey cubicle walls and started dismantling them,” says Lisa Yeung, managing editor of lifestyle, thus “breaking down the barriers between editors so they could see and talk to each other more easily.”
That simple act helped set the tone for a workplace that is known to be a paragon of inclusiveness.
Diversity is another key strength of the digital teams that Kenny has helped build and lead. “At HuffPost Canada Kenny has built one of the country’s youngest, most culturally diverse, and energetic newsrooms,” says Andree Lau. The result, adds Brodie Fenlon, “has been rich, unique editorial content that reflects the modern cultural mosaic of Canada in a way that few newsrooms can match.”
Leveraging that diversity and teamwork, say those who’ve worked with Kenny, would not be possible without his commitment to professionalism. “Our editors are diverse in their cultural and geographic backgrounds,” says Lisa Yeung, “but the enduring qualities that bind us together are rooted in Kenny’s ethos—respect, kindness, integrity, curiosity, and innovation.”
With Kenny Yum as leader, innovation never sleeps. In the past year, with the advent of distributed publishing, Kenny has aligned the HuffPost newsroom around the need to flourish under this new model. The results have been staggering, notes Sasha Nagy. “In a year, our Facebook pages spiked from half a million to 1.2 million followers. Video views have grown from 15 million per month to over 60 million.”
“One of Kenny’s great traits,” says Rashida Jeeva, “is his willingness to share his knowledge—much of it self-taught—with others. It’s not uncommon to find him leading training sessions with teams within, and outside of, Canada.”
In addition to fostering professional development at AOL Canada, Kenny has taught online journalism at Ryerson University and serves on the school’s advisory board. And he often volunteers his time to advise colleagues and industry associations on the possibilities of digital publishing in the future.
Through all of these achievements and accolades, Kenny’s personality is what strikes his colleagues as most deserving of recognition. “He is a quiet, confident leader,” says Brodie Fenlon, “who makes things happen behind the scenes, drives his teams to excellence, and never seeks public acknowledgement or recognition.” His list of accomplishments, adds Andree Lau, “does not fully convey the kind of integrity, excellence, and loyalty that he both exudes and inspires.” Perhaps, then, true leadership in digital publishing is more than just an algorithm of inputs. It’s also a function of character. And for that, the NMAF is proud to award the 2017 Digital Publishing Leadership Award to Kenny Yum.
The Digital Publishing Leadership Award will be presented at the 2017 DPA Soiree on June 1 in Toronto. Tickets will be available to purchase on Tuesday April 25 www.digitalpublishingawards.ca.
We asked HuffPost Canada’s team to name the particularly remarkable achievements during Kenny’s tenure. Here are just a few:
“He challenged us into asking deeper questions, pushed for the town hall to be live-streamed on both HuffPost’s pages and Facebook Live (which had just launched as an unknown entity at the time), and assigned video clips to be distributed immediately around the world. He rolled up his sleeves when necessary, and stepped back when he knew the team could figure it out themselves. The result was a polished, thought-provoking, and highly produced event.”
– Andree Lau, managing editor of news, HuffPost Canada
In this ongoing series exploring the experiences of children of immigrants through personal essays, features and video, notes Andree Lau, Kenny has shown that he is a “champion of critical takes on diversity and visibility in Canada, and an enthusiastic supporter of developing the next generation of leaders in digital journalism.”
HuffPost spearheaded a week of special coverage on sexual assault in November 2014 in the immediate wake of the Jian Ghomeshi allegations. Further, under Kenny’s leadership HuffPost devoted ongoing coverage of violence against women, including extensive coverage of the Rehtaeh Parsons and Amanda Todd cases.
This video documentary series followed four Canadian soldiers and the complex changes they face after serving their country, and was nominated for a 2016 Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) Award
This investigation into Canada’s growing income divide, shepherded under Kenny’s leadership, won a Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) Award in 2011.
A 2012 news series that offered a glimpse into the lives of Millennials and the issues they face as a generation.
A video series highlighting the careers of notable Canadian women.
The Digital Publishing Leadership Award will be presented to Kenny Yum at the 2nd annual Digital Publishing Awards Soirée on Thursday June 1 at The Spoke Club in Toronto. Tickets are $50 and will go on sale tomorrow, Tuesday April 25. They can be purchased at digitalpublishingawards.ca.