David Chivers ’98 leads Iowa’s largest newspaper.
There’s a certain symmetry to David Chivers’ appointment as president and publisher of The Des Moines Register. The 1998 Central grad’s first job was as a paper boy for The Register in his hometown of Des Moines. He’s also a former English major, which is fitting for someone charged with shepherding an iconic newspaper into a new digital age, while maintaining the heritage of powerful stories. Not that the printed pages of The Register are going away any time soon. According to Chivers, there are still a lot of subscribers out there “who enjoy having the paper every morning and reading it before they head out.”
Chivers reads The Register in print every day and The New York Times in print on Sundays. He also reads The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and the Times digitally each day, along with novels, short stories and business books. These three types of reading materials could represent three important aspects of Chivers’ character: the scholar, the businessman and the newspaperman.
Chivers headed to Central after graduating from Des Moines North High School in 1994. His college choice was influenced by his now-wife and friends who attended Central after participating in Upward Bound. “It made such an impact on them going to Central over the summer that it became their school of choice, and indirectly became my school of choice,” he says.
At first, Chivers wasn’t sure what his major would be, but he decided on English and anthropology. “I loved to read and write,” he says. “So literature and English was a natural.” An Introduction to Anthropology class with Steve Ybarrola hooked Chivers “on this idea of studying cultures and societies and people. I didn’t look back,” he says.
Since graduating from Central, Chivers has attained an MBA degree, a Master’s of Science in integrated marketing communication and held a variety of jobs at well-known companies. He’s been director of online audience development at Meredith Corp., director of online marketing for Dow Jones (parent company of The Wall Street Journal) and chief digital officer at Jostens, the company most notable for providing high school seniors with graduation apparel and class rings. He says that with the exception of his current job, “every job I’ve had after my first couple of roles have been jobs that didn’t exist when I was in college.” He believes his liberal arts background prepared him well for a changing work environment. “I’m a big believer in the tradition of liberal arts education,” he says. “I feel like it’s provided a framework by which to look at the world and think about the world that has been invaluable to me.”
Chivers has focused his professional life on the digital world. “I created a career around leading change and innovation in digital,” he says. In addition, he’s become something of an expert on what makes millennials tick. He says, “Jostens was very exciting to me because it was a real opportunity to work with teenagers and parents of teenagers. I could get to know a generation of consumers who have not only been digitally native, but increasingly have been connected their entire life.”
He says using digital tools and technology is “just like breathing” to today’s teens. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in face-to-face experiences. “I think they’re really looking to be reached through multiple channels, through digital, through in-person,” he says. He’s found young people are also very sensitive to content they find to be “authentic and true.”
Joining The Register in May was a homecoming for Chivers — both to Des Moines and to a company for which he has “a feeling of reverence.” He’s excited to be part of the “heritage of great journalism, great content and community connection that’s really important not only for Des Moines but really the state of Iowa.” In addition to continuing that heritage through the print publication, Chivers and The Register staff are exploring new ways of bringing information to citizens.
One opportunity is in-person experiences. For example, The Register has been hosting a series of mock caucuses, or mockuses, in the run-up to the presidential election of 2016. Designed to educate first-time voters on how to caucus, the events are squarely aimed at millennials, with hip locations like Des Moines Social Club, and the cheeky name “Give A Damn, Des Moines.”
No matter what The Register is doing, as president of the largest paper in Iowa, Chivers is now firmly in the spotlight. Four months in, he says, “There’s still an adjustment period of figuring out how I navigate this semi-public persona.” But he sticks to a basic principle of authenticity, saying, “How I interact with you in this room is how I’m going to interact with other people at home, on the street or in public.”
His daughters also keep him grounded. At age 12 and 9, Chivers says they are both digitally savvy and regularly amaze him with their command of — and expectations for — technology. For instance, his daughters have grown up with a DVR in the home. When his oldest was 2, she took a trip to her grandparents’ house, which did not have a DVR. “She just could not wrap her brain around why she couldn’t watch the specific episode of ‘Dora’ that she wanted to watch,” Chivers says. “And she couldn’t understand what these commercials were that were interrupting her show.”
“I’m in a big believer in the tradition of liberal arts education.”
David Chivers ’98
Natives of the digital world like Chivers’ daughters will be tomorrow’s news consumers, and in fact are already changing how people think about and consume information. Adapting to this changing world is a big part of what Chivers is working on at The Register, and he sees similarities to higher education. He says, “I think the faculty and staff at colleges and universities across the country are going through their own digital transformation and disruption, and I don’t think that some of the issues facing higher education today are all that different from the issues and opportunities the media business has been dealing with for almost two decades now.”
Chivers has built a successful career out of managing disruption, helping organizations evolve along with new technologies. It’s a role requiring the ability to think, to question and to imagine a changing world — all skills honed in the liberal arts environment Chivers values. He says, “I couldn’t have imagined that my time at Central would lead me down a path that would put me in the chair I’m in today.”