Don Shelton, a 40-year journalist and longtime Seattle Times sports editor, has been chosen to lead the newspaper as it transitions toward an increasingly digital landscape.

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Don Shelton, a 40-year journalist and longtime Seattle Times sports editor, has been chosen to lead the newspaper as it transitions toward an increasingly digital landscape, publisher Frank Blethen announced Tuesday.

In naming Shelton the newspaper’s editor, Blethen on Tuesday cited his skills to “lead and inspire us through our essential next step in adapting to a rapidly changing, challenging and volatile environment.”

“Don became Seattle Times Sports Editor in 2009,” Blethen said in an email to staff naming Shelton as editor. “That was one of the most challenging years ever for The Seattle Times and the newspaper industry. How Don transformed our sports department from 2009 to today is remarkable. It’s a model for what we must do throughout the newsroom.”

Shelton said Tuesday he’s “excited and thrilled” to lead Washington’s largest newsroom — a place where he’s worked for 29 years.

“I see this job as an honor,” he said. “My role will be providing a vision of where we’re headed and a plan of how to get there.”

Shelton said his strategy for the newspaper’s future is a work in progress, but he expects the core of it will involve further implementation of a “digital now” approach throughout the newsroom.

“We’re still going to put out a great print product, but we’ll be making digital our highest priority,” Shelton said.

The Times already uses such a digital-first approach in its award-winning sports coverage, he said. That includes short, regular updates to its website and social-media accounts with the latest sports developments to complement other in-depth work, including sports investigations, columns, personality profiles and features.

“It’s about giving readers more information that they can use and to keep them coming back to us for more throughout the day,” Shelton said. “As they do that, our (web) traffic goes up and once you get them to our site, they’re going to stay there. I think we can create more habitual subscribers.”

Before implementing any changes to The Times and its coverage, Shelton said he plans to meet one on one with employees across the newsroom to help him better understand how each department functions and can be improved.

“I think what I’ve learned as sports editor translates very well to news, business and features,” Shelton said. “And that approach really has been that our focus isn’t on doing sports journalism, but good journalism.”

Blethen echoed Shelton’s philosophy in his email to staff Tuesday.

“Sports has become a sophisticated, reader-engagement, print, digital and social-media operation,” Blethen said. “They were the first in our company to do blogs, videos, polls and reader engagement. Even as Don pushed digital and engagement, he transformed our print sections into the nation’s best.”

Blethen’s announcement drew an impromptu gathering and congratulatory ovation among staff in the newsroom for Shelton, a gregarious editor.

A University of Idaho graduate, Shelton is a career journalist with previous stops at the Yakima Herald-Republic, the (Bellevue) Journal-American and the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. Before being named The Times’ sports editor in 2009, he worked as the newspaper’s assistant sports editor for 22 years, leading preps coverage and coordinating Huskies and Seahawks game-day coverage.

Shelton, 62, is a married father of three grown sons and grandfather of three children. He lives in Bothell.

Shelton replaces former Times Editor Kathy Best, who announced her departure from the top post May 25 to take the editor’s job at The Missoulian, a daily newspaper in Montana.

Metro newspapers transitioning to digital formats are still searching for ways to sustain their budgets amid declining print circulation and advertising that bring in the bulk of their revenues.