Thomas A. Silvestri, who has worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch for 37 years, including the last 15 years as the newspaper’s president and publisher, announced his retirement Friday.
Silvestri, whose newspaper career spans five decades, will stay on in Richmond until Dec. 31.
Effective immediately, Paul Farrell becomes the newspaper’s publisher.
Farrell most recently served as vice president of sales for Iowa-based Lee Enterprises, which owns 46 daily newspapers, 300 specialty publications and digital operations in 21 states. BH Media Group, which owns The Times-Dispatch and 29 other daily newspapers, turned over management of its newspaper and digital operations in 30 markets to Lee Enterprises in mid-2018.
Silvestri, 64, who became publisher on Jan. 1, 2005, said his retirement is bittersweet.
“It’s time to turn over the next era of rebuilding to a new leader. No regrets,” Silvestri said. “I’ve been fortunate to be a publisher working with outstanding colleagues, in a community whose loyal support of its daily newspapers has been rewarding and in an industry where we keep inventing ways to excel.”
When he became publisher, Silvestri became the first person in 117 years — spanning four generations — outside of the Bryan family to serve as publisher of one of Richmond’s major daily newspapers.
Media General Inc., controlled by the Bryan family, exited the publishing business in 2012 when it sold its newspapers, including The Times-Dispatch, to a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Four years later, Media General was acquired by Texas-based Nexstar Media Group Inc.
Farrell said he knows he has big shoes to fill with Silvestri’s departure.
“He is such a force in the local market and in journalism. He has made incredible contributions,” Farrell said.
Community leaders also praised Silvestri for his leadership and the impact he has had on the Richmond region as publisher.
Robert S. “Bobby” Ukrop, chairman and CEO of his family’s Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods, said Silvestri’s retirement as the newspaper’s publisher “is a huge” loss.
“He has had the ability to galvanize people around important topics,” Ukrop said. “He could get to the heart of the matter and ask the question that would disarm you and get right to the key issues. I always felt like you could trust him and he would shoot me the straight scoop.”
As publisher, Silvestri got involved in community organizations and activities, including serving on the boards of Richmond Region Tourism, Venture Richmond, Leadership Metro Richmond and ChamberRVA.
“He was always looking for solutions,” Ukrop said. “When he took on a project, you felt like he was going to be very involved and that things were not going to flounder under him. He wasn’t just going through the motions.”
Lisa Sims, the CEO of Venture Richmond, the downtown advocacy group that Silvestri has been a board member of since 2011, said Silvestri’s tenure as publisher can best be characterized as a time when The Times-Dispatch fully embraced community engagement and involvement.
Under Silvestri’s leadership, The Times-Dispatch created the Public Square initiative that has become nationally recognized for providing a forum for the Richmond community to learn about and discuss issues of importance in central Virginia. The newspaper has held 78 Public Square gatherings since September 2005.
“The Public Squares that have been held over the years have opened the doors to the newspaper in ways that most people hadn’t experienced before,” Sims said. “For the community to be asked their opinion, then given a means of expressing it in print, was a big step.”
Sims also said the newspaper’s community involvement happened in other ways under Silvestri, including art exhibits in the newspaper’s lobby during First Fridays and The Times-Dispatch’s interview tent during the Richmond Folk Festival.
“Tom left the office and embraced and participated in the community, and in many ways demystified the institution,” Sims said.
Nancy Thomas, the president and CEO of the local Retail Merchants group, said Silvestri had a unique ability to be relatable to everyone.
“His curiosity to not only learn but to understand the person behind a story makes him an incredible writer and a fine example within his industry,” Thomas said. “His impact on this community has earned him the respect and admiration of a man who has the courage to ask the hard questions but always in a respectable, kind manner. Tom deeply cares about his RTD family and always had the backs of our local RVA business community. We should all be grateful for his unprecedented professionalism, good humor, and leadership.”
Kim Scheeler, who retired in September as president and CEO of ChamberRVA after being in that role since August 2008, said Silvestri was “the brainchild” behind pushing the Richmond region to focus on the startup and entrepreneurial community. “He was the one who said Richmond could be innovative and be creative.”
Ukrop said he got to know Silvestri better 22 years ago when the two participated in Leadership Metro Richmond, a regional leadership development and service group that Silvestri later served on as a board member.
During the program’s opening retreat, Ukrop and Silvestri and others played basketball.
“He hustled and worked hard” playing basketball, Ukrop said. “When you play against someone or with them on your team, you gain respect for the way they do things. I always found him to be responsive. If you brought something to him, he would address it. He was always looking for the longer-term solutions for the region.”
Silvestri started as a reporter and editor in New York.
He joined The Times-Dispatch’s newsroom in 1982 and held jobs that included business editor, eventually serving as deputy managing editor. He oversaw the creation of the Metro Business section in 1986.
He later moved to jobs at Media General, then the parent company of The Times-Dispatch, and served as president of its community newspapers with oversight of 20 daily publications and more than 25 weeklies in five states in the Southeast.
In 2012, Silvestri was named to the senior leadership team at BH Media Group. In addition to serving as president and publisher of The Times-Dispatch, he was vice president of the company’s Richmond Group.
From 2013 to 2015, he served as president and chair of the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association. Silvestri is a member of the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame.
“I have things I want to do in the next chapters of life,” he said. “And, I look forward to spending more time with my wife, Sue Kurzman. I could not have done this job without her support and advice.”
Farrell started in the newspaper industry by working as director of sales and marketing at the Miami Herald.
Since then, he has held executive positions in advertising departments at a variety of newspapers, including at The Providence Journal as senior vice president; at the Boston Globe as advertising director for retail and national advertising; at the St. Paul Pioneer Press as senior vice president of sales and marketing; and as publisher of Hearst Newspapers’ Connecticut Media Group, which has eight daily newspapers, including the Connecticut Post and the Stamford Advocate.
Farrell holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing and finance from Providence College and a master’s degree in business administration from Northeastern University in Boston. He has two sons and a daughter.
Farrell said he looks forward to his new role in Richmond.
“This is a capital city and there are certain strengths and resilience associated with capital cities that I find very appealing. Major segments of the local economy look to be quite vibrant,” Farrell said.
Being a local media company that offers the largest local audience across all platforms — from print to digital media — is a commanding position to take advantage of, he said.
“So much of the business is transitioning to social media and digital marketing; the organization that can bridge the gap between traditional and digital media in significant ways that enable the customer to get the best result possible is going to win,” Farrell said. “The newspaper industry is clearly in transition with significant opportunities and some challenges. The ability to build on Richmond’s No. 1 local news organization leaves us well positioned for future investment and growth.”