Updated: Asheville Citizen-Times hires Gannett star editor Awtry for top editor job


Update: I published the story below on Dec. 12. On Dec. 13, the Asheville Citizen-Times announced Awtry had been hired.

Original post: Josh Awtry, a star editor in the Gannett Company, is being eyed for the top editor’s job here in Asheville. Gannett, one of the biggest newspaper chains in the U.S., owns the Asheville Citizen-Times and the Greenville News in Greenville, S.C. The job Awtry is up for entails serving as editor of those two newspapers, which serve vastly different communities.

Awtry has won both praise and notice for the work he’s done since arriving at the Gannett-owned The Coloradoan in Fort Collins, Colo. (Of note: Fort Collins is home to New Belgium Brewing, which is building its first East Coast brewery here in Asheville.) Awtry came to Fort Collins in 2012 after working as an editor in Idaho. He’s got a background as a newspaper designer, copy editor and graphic artist. He’s 38.

An October 2013 piece published by Columbia Journalism Review centered on Awtry and his work to re-energize the Fort Collins newspaper. The story noted Awtry’s work to redesign the newspaper and push newsroom personnel to focus on Web metrics and use social media channels to connect with readers. From CJR:

He got his start at community newspapers in Nebraska, worked at the Sun News in Myrtle Beach, SC, and then became assistant managing editor at the Salt Lake Tribune. Before moving to Fort Collins, he was the editor of the Times-News in Twin Falls, ID, where he pushed the concept of civic engagement and listening to ensure a newspaper reflected its community. “Anyplace that would put a soup ladle or ice cream scoop in my hand—I’d be there,” he says.

He also pushed a data-driven approach to news, and using “actionable intelligence” from anecdotes, reader panels, and digital metrics to mirror a community’s passions. And he started a “cover story” concept—“one great, deep piece of enterprise journalism trumps multiple daily incremental stories.” He says he developed those ideas at the Tribune but implemented them first in Idaho. “Much of what we’ve put into practice at the Coloradoan are caffeinated, extra-strength versions of those concepts,” he says.

The Coloradoan’s emphasis on metrics and digital subscriptions, which began in earnest when Awtry took the helm in December 2011, extends to pushing for traffic growth through social media. Reporters tweet news updates from the field, keep their Facebook pages updated, and produce videos. They’re also encouraged to be more visible in the community, with marketing efforts putting their names and faces in advertisements and even at bus stops.

The CJR story goes on to mention that Awtry’s work earned him accolades in 2012 as “Innovator of the Year” at Gannett’s annual awards ceremony at its headquarters in McLean, VA. Awtry reinvented the newsroom “in a profound way,” according to Gannett officials who handed out the award.

Earlier this year, the Citizen-Times hired a new publisher, Dave Neill, to succeed retiring Publisher Randy Hammer. Both Neill and Awtry, if hired, have a difficult task ahead. They’re arriving as their newspaper company continues to come to terms with declining print readership, and a corresponding lack of uptick in online print readership and advertising.

In August, the Citizen-Times laid off eight newsroom employees. The newspaper has also been dealing with recent controversies over its publication and distribution of a paid political advertisement that was not labeled, and an announcement that the nonprofit arm of its popular marathon would not pay participating local charities until next year.


theOtherBarry December 15, 2013 - 7:36 pm

His training is in graphic design, he’s 38, and he’s worked for at least 5 different papers? And now he’s editor in charge of two newspapers in two different states? Man, I gotta meet this guy. Either he’s Clark Kent, or there’s LSD in the brownies at Gannett Corporate.

Again, kids: don’t put LSD in the brownies!!

Heather Rayburn December 14, 2013 - 9:41 pm

Why not reward people from within — people who have already built strong relationships with the community? Where will all the “great, deep piece of enterprise journalism” come from given all the lay-offs? Sigh.

Jason December 19, 2013 - 4:31 pm

Maybe the people within are part of the problem with the under performing, lack luster, poor reporting ACT. I think new blood is the last hope this rag has. Good thing this guy kept his other job. The ACT most likely won’t be around much longer.

Jennifer S. December 14, 2013 - 9:53 am

Check this guy out on Twitter, he actually knows how to tweet: https://twitter.com/jawtry.

I’d love to see the C-T actually undertake social media marketing attached to its goals, and not just mechanically crank out canned tweets from random accounts, or insert someone from sales into the official FB account and hope for the best. That’s better than nothing. But it’s not ideal to truly serve our community and grow followers.

I’m waiting for corporate newspapers to do more with SEO, nailing search traffic in their communities with great content and great landing pages. To optimize whole websites AND ARTICLES for social media shares. To use Facebook intelligently (promote posts, run good ads, create events, contest well, share news well).

I am at peace with waiting forever, but as a news nerd and social media nerd, I welcome a real digital native at my hometown paper.

Media Watcher December 13, 2013 - 12:49 pm

Thank you for thoughtful analysis. Asheville’s serious newspaper readers – online and in print – can only hope Awtry can do something positive. Maybe he needs to start by getting an assessment of the situation from Jason Sandford.

Puma December 12, 2013 - 10:30 pm

I get my news from the internet but the Citizen-Times won’t let you read the local news unless you pay for it. I am not going to pay to hear about what goes on in my community. Also, lots of people read local newspapers before they move to get a handle on the community. The Citizen-Times hurts the community more than it helps the community. I read the Mountain Xpress, Ashvegas, and WLOS….sorry citizen-times I do not need to pay for local news. Further, I do not feel the Citizen-times reflects the whole community; you have to be a Democrat to read that rag..totally biased reporting and non-inclusive.

luther blissett December 14, 2013 - 5:15 pm

“I am not going to pay to hear about what goes on in my community.”

So you’re a proud moocher?

Media Watcher December 12, 2013 - 7:33 pm

On its website, the Coloradoan looks exactly like the Citizen-Times (the Gannett template, of course), and a cursory read suggests the coverage (lots of crime) and quality of writing is the same as the Citizen-Times. So what did Awtry do there to distinguish the paper?

Do you, as a former C-T staffer, think one editor can oversee Greenville and Asheville papers?

And why, after the much-talked-about firings of staffers, are new reporters’ bylines showing up? Is the Citizen-Times replacing the people they fired?

Jason Sandford December 13, 2013 - 11:16 am

Media Watcher, I’m not sure about all the new bylines showing up in the newspaper. Edwin, who reviews movies for me here, is freelancing more to fill in for staff writer Karen Chavez, who is out with an illness. I don’t know about the rest.

To answer your other questions: I think it will be difficult, but not impossible, for Awtry to oversee both the Greenville and Asheville newsrooms. My understanding is that he will be based in Asheville, which will help him here. But how does he then get to understand, and connect with, the Greenville community? I don’t know. Part of it must include a strong connection with managing editors in each newsroom. I don’t know who that person will be here in Asheville.

My sense of what Awtry did in Fort Collins to be so celebrated was move aggressively on the online side. From what I’ve read, Awtry talks every day about page views and social media interactions and such, which are all measurable. Gannett newspapers, despite all the talk, are still moving slowly here, all while the landscape continues to shift. So when Gannett officials saw one company person being aggressive on that front, they picked him out of the crowd and held him up as an example.

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