Monday, July 29, 2013

Roanoke Paper Gets New Editor--Yaaaaaaay!

Joseph Stinnett
My guess is that the huge sigh you hear coming from Campbell Avenue in downtown Roanoke is the one emanating from the newsroom at the Roanoke daily newspaper where Carole Tarrant, the executive editor for more than five years, has been replaced.

Tarrant's replacement--appointed by new Publisher Terry Jamerson, who published the Lynchburg News & Advance and several smaller papers before her appointment by new owner Berkshire Hathaway--is Joseph Stinnett. He has been the managing editor of the News & Advance, a paper known for its local coverage and for its excellent coverage of the General Assembly, since 1995. He is 61 years old, another plus, as far as I'm concerned.

Under recently-replaced Publisher Debbie Meade's unfortunate reign, older journalists were regularly jettisoned in favor of less expensive--and far less experienced--kids. Some of those youngsters are good, but they don't have the institutional memory that is crucial in a newspaper.

The story is here.

Tarrant, from what her colleagues told me repeatedly, created a newsroom where morale was low, job security weak and news judgement questionable. The newsroom joke a couple of years ago was that she was "creating the best 40,000 circulation newspaper in Virginia." When she started, that circulation was more than 80,000. It is now less than 70,000.

I think that the paper under Tarrant and Meade deteriorated to the point of being an afterthought in this market. Lost circulation was only one of its problems. Sadly, the destruction of what had been a good newspaper paralleled television news in the region becoming laughable (except for the reporting of Joe Dashiel and WDBJ7's weather boys).

One message I got today went like this: "Oh happy day for those of us over 40 who have been around for a while and have seen the newsroom morale take a dive as much as the circulation has. This reign of terror is over."

Meade's appointment as publisher (which led me to leave the Business Journal at the time and, with Tom Field, start FRONT magazine) coincided with Landmark's decision to sell the paper and that meant making it look more profitable than it actually was. That, of course, reaching profitability by cutting costs and staff is not a sustainable business model. The news budget was devastated and so was coverage.

So, now, we get to the question of the paper's editorial page. Will it remain liberal or take on Lynchburg's far right of center stance with the infusion these Lynchburg executives? The editorial page in this conservative region gets a great deal of heat, but former Publisher Walter Rugaber, a superb newspaperman for many years (he was on the Pulitzer Board), once told me that if this region were liberal, he would have installed a conservative editorial page. He wanted something to keep the readers interested.

More later, I suspect.

(Photo: roanoke.com)



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