Monday, May 5, 2014

Four More Significant Losses for Roanoke Times

The long frozen salaries, reduced company insurance payment and heavy work burden continue to plague Roanoke's local daily newspaper, The Times. This time, the defections from the newsroom are a heavy shot in the solar plexis.

Beth Macy
On Sept. 11 of last year (and the date is strictly conicidence, I'm assured), the paper announced 31 layoffs in an effort to make it “more efficient and locally focused,” according to a story from the Poynter Institute. That layoff is popularly called "the slaughter" inside the building on Campbell Avenue. I'm not sure about the logic behind the firing, but from what I've seen with the product, it didn't work.

Institutional memory, the coin of the relm in the newspaper business, is at its lowest level in my memory. Key veteran staff defections--whether or not voluntary, and many have been--have become the rule, rather than the exception and there is no accounting of the numbers of young people who are turning away from the business, or how many good reporters nationally are leaving permanently.

"Community journalism" is becoming the cheap alternative to retaining reporters of the quality of this group that is leaving the paper here.

Here are the four major talent defections:

Christina Nuckols
* Reporter Beth Macy, whose new book Factory Man is coming this month from Little Brown, will leave to write another book. This is at least the second time Macy has left. She took a Nieman Fellowship in 2009 at Harvard. She's been with the paper since 1989. An internal memo said the paper "will announce plans" about when/if/by whom Macy is to be replaced.

* Editorial Page Editor Christina Nuckols, who heads a team of two (down from six not so long ago) in the editorial department, will leave. A source tells me she's just worn out and I can fully understand that state. People I knew on the staff of six complained of the heavy workload. She was a reporter at the paper, left to cover state government in Richmond, then returned in 2011. This position will almost certainly be filled, unless there is some notion of Betty Strother holding down the fort alone. She's going to work as a communications advisor for Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Mark Taylor
* Mark Taylor, the long-time outdoor editor (and a former neighbor of mine) will join Trout Unlimited in PR. Former outdoor editor Bill Cochran--whom I consider the best writer of any kind in Virginia--has been contributing to the pages for some time, but there is no word on a successor. Or whether there will be one. Mark's wife is an advertising executive at the paper.

Michael Sluss
* Michael Sluss, the primary Richmond political
reporter (and a good one) has left to do PR at McGuire Woods law firm in Richmond, one of the state's largest. He joins veteran AP reporter Bob Lewis, who was fired when he wrote that Terry McAuliffe, then running for governor, “lied to a federal official.”

These four landed much better gigs, but there was a time when a newspaper journalist would have considered a job away from this "calling" to be a step down. No longer.

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