Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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asheville_citizen_times_first_2014The Asheville Citizen-Times news department has seven fewer employees under a reorganization that went into effect, according to my unconfirmed count. The newspaper’s corporate parent, Gannett, is testing what it calls the “newsroom of the future” concept in five of its newspapers across the country, including the Citizen-Times. Today’s layoffs come almost a year to the day that eight staffers were laid off in 2013.

The reorganization aims to focus news-gathering operations on the online delivery of news through websites and social media sites first and foremost. Josh Awtry, editor of the Citizen-Times, has said the new plan will focus more resources on reporting and digital media.

In human terms, that means that most newsroom employees were essentially fired and forced to reapply for new jobs, many of which pay less than previous jobs. Here is the list of people that are affected, as I know it from my sources (and unconfirmed):

Barbara Blake: Barbara is perhaps the newspaper’s most well-known reporter, having worked at the newspaper since 1974. Last December, her daughter, Casey Blake, wrote a great piece for the Citizen-Times recounting her mother’s career to mark Barb’s 40th anniversary. Casey is also a reporter at the newspaper. (Did not reapply for a job.)

Barbara has won numerous honors for her writing, including two Thomas Wolfe awards. She’s covered all the big stories of the day for the past four decades. She’s the newsroom’s mother figure, quietly checking in with everyone, taking on extra editing duties and helping organize Thanksgiving and Christmas newsroom dinners (along with Holly, see below). Read Casey Blake’s story about her mother, Barbara Blake, here.

Bill Sanders: Bill is the photo editor at the Citizen-Times. This is his second go-round at the newspaper, having first worked as a Citizen-Times photographer in the 1970s, I believe. Bill is a career newspaper photographer. Bill will stay on through most of September. (Did not reapply for a job.)

Bobby Bradley: Bobby started out at the newspaper as a graphic designer. Most recently, Bobby has been producing videos and shooting photos. I’m not sure how long he’s been at the newspaper. (Did not reapply for a job.)

Holly MacKenzie: Holly has been the newspaper’s staff librarian for years. As the newspaper has gradually cut back on staff, Holly was tasked with doing more and more regarding online archiving and most recently she’s been tasked with some copy editing duties. Holly has been with the Citizen-Times for at least 20 years, though I don’t exactly how long. (There was no new job for Holly to apply for.)

John Coutlakis: John came aboard the Citizen-Times in the early 1990s, as I recall. He is of Greek ancestry, and is well-known in Asheville’s vibrant Greek community. He’s a great photographer and is especially good as a sports photographer. (Did not reapply for a job.)

Polly McDaniel: I don’t know when Polly joined the newspaper, but she’s been a reporter/editor for her entire stint. Polly started as an editor/reporter overseeing home and garden sections. Her husband, Rick McDaniel, is a cookbook author and former food reviewer for the newspaper. Most recently, Polly has worked as multimedia editor. (Laid off.)

Here’s an updated/corrected bio, which Polly sent me Friday evening:

I was with the Citizen-Times for 16 years, starting as a copy editor, then rising to features editor, where I pioneered coverage of the farm-to-table movement in the food and home and garden sections and greatly expanded our arts coverage.
In 2009, I was promoted to multimedia editor.
I have since held a variety of roles, including content development. I crafted the framework for Asheville Scene for example. I also led the transition from the old Citizen-Times website to the new one that launched this year.

Clarke Morrison: Clarke has been at the Citizen-Times since the 1980s. He has been reporting on environmental issues for years, and most recently has worked the morning cops (public safety) shift. He’s a beloved grump, known in the newsroom as “The Grizz,” short for “grizzled veteran.” (Laid off.)

Jeff Ruminiski: Jeff worked outside the newsroom in a graphic design capacity.

There are five Gannett newspapers affected by this “newsroom of the future” experiment by Gannett: the Nashville Tennessean, The Indianapolis Star, the Pensacola News Journal, the Asbury Park Press, the Greenville News in South Carolina, and the Asheville Citizen-Times in North Carolina.

While managers at other newspapers have clearly explained new reporter beats and job descriptions, we have yet to hear exactly who will be doing what at the Asheville Citizen-Times. More to come.

My heart goes out to those forced out. I’m angered by the process Gannett forced employees to go through, and I’m generally down about the prospects of the daily newspaper, which I worked for during my entire 20-year career until I was laid off last year.

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

  • 1

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  1. unhappy ex act employee September 13, 2015

    Citizen times is at it again laying off people the new leadership. As of recent has caused many angry employees to. Walk out and quit with no. Notice there are people who. Desperately want to be news paper carriers who. Are being fired or being denied the right to. Work most in. Violation of equal employment laws and the employees who are still there hate their job because they feel act is being run. Into. The ground due to bad leadership I look up employee complaints about act to find act has been. Doing this seemingly every year around the same time of the month now its 2015 and they are at it again I will email these 2 articles about act to EEOC something needs to be done about this bs or the same will repeat next year forgive my bad grammar but I wanted to bring this to. Attention

  2. theOtherBarry September 3, 2014

    Reports coming out that USA Today beginning “major” layoffs.

  3. Pete Kaliner August 27, 2014

    My sympathies go out to these people, along with wishes for a successful new path.

    The old paradigm of news operations is, indeed, changing. This very blog is proof.

    Over the years, radio has been challenged repeatedly by new media platforms competing for audience. TV is now experiencing this competition for probably the first time.

    But so is print. And it’s not going to survive in its current form.

    However, just yesterday I saw two blogs announce major hiring pushes. News editing & writing skills are still in demand. Just not in a traditional newsroom any longer.

    Yahoo and Apple have their own newsroom operations now – just like TV networks launched news operations for their own platforms decades ago. The digital platforms and content providers are doing the same now.

    The truth is – there is FAR more competition in media now than there was. There are tons of opportunities for people – including going into business for themselves. This is a new era for journalists where they can take their work directly to consumers who demand their work.

    Again, look at what Jason is doing on this very blog. Look what David Forbes is doing at the Asheville Blade.

    No doubt – it sucks when you get laid off. You think there’s no way you’ll ever find a job doing what you love. But that’s entirely up to you. Will it be hard? Yes. But anything worth achieving usually is.

    Again, I wish these folks all the best!

  4. Dan Ward August 26, 2014

    I’ve worked with Barbara Blake at the C-T and with Bill Sanders at the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, and know both of them to be at the top of their craft. As news staffs have shrunk below the critical mass of what’s required to cover the big stories right, it’s ironic that the corporate types would shove out the best to make room for the trendiest. Thank goodness the C-T is hiring a digital-savvy watchdog to uncover all the wrongdoing in 30-something counties. I’ll sleep better.

  5. Gary J August 25, 2014

    It appears some of the folks left on their own according to a follow up from the editor on Sunday.

  6. Lois D. Smith-Capasso August 24, 2014

    No picture is necessary.

  7. Gary J August 23, 2014

    Curious … how many of these cuts are people “under 40” and people “over 50?” It looks to me that once again, experience is trumped by a desire to “get by” with lower wages and inability to recognize what everyone brings to the table. Just because a tablet wasn’t around when these folks started their careers, doesn’t mean they have lost their ability for story-telling, photojournalism and reporting.

  8. Arnold Wengrow August 23, 2014

    Polly McDaniel took strong steps to expand/improve the Citizen-Times’s coverage of the visual arts, at a time when the city was just beginning to assume its identify as an “arts destination.” The vitality of today’s arts scene owes something to her advocacy.
    As a correspondent for the Citizen-Times when she was features editor, I always appreciated her supportive and knowledgeable editing. I always remember her admonition to “write tight.”

  9. Carole August 23, 2014

    Gannett is Scum… For those who were left behind: Leave with dignity while you still can.

  10. Don Yelton August 23, 2014

    And the big bosses wonder why they r losing losing readership. Gannett is well know for buying papers and then putting on national crap and cutting news crew. The paper could capitalize on going deeper into stories with a 30 second sound bite. I remember when Virgil bragged at a local nite spot that owning a paper was like having money printer. Sounds like money printer is broken. Serves them right. Hate to see people suffer but so goes it today.

    1. Harry August 23, 2014

      They’re losing readership because we live in a digital world and print is dying a slow, painful death. Those who remain in print would be wise to obtain new skills and adapt, or they too will be gone.

      1. luther blissett August 23, 2014

        Those who remain in print would be wise to obtain new skills and adapt

        Yeah, because the bios of those who just left the C-T don’t show any willingness to acquire new skills, adapt to the digital newsroom, and take on new roles throughout their careers.


        If you’re arguing that the “new skills” required for the digital world are the ability to write Buzzfeed listicles and compress complex stories into tweets and Facebook posts, then screw that.

        Gannett’s just waiting for the time it can replace human listicle-writers with computers running “maximum virality” algorithms peppered with native advertising, so it’s not like those new skills are going to be any use in the long term. The jobs are in selling ads.

        1. Harry August 23, 2014

          I have no idea what skills these employees possess or don’t. You may have inside information that I don’t have. Downsizing in the print industry will continue until it’s inevitable death. Obtaining one’s news from Twitter and Facrbook is quite sad. But, we have politicians basing policy decisions on what they read on the Twitter feed. The whole thing is really F’d up.

          1. luther blissett August 23, 2014

            I have no inside information. But the staff librarian became the online archivist and did some copy editing as well. Feature writers have taken on editing jobs. A graphic designer became a videographer. Perhaps you don’t consider that moving with the times.

            Does the C-T have anyone with the skills and experience to guide reporters to background material in the paper’s archive, or are they expected to dive in themselves and hope for the best? Or better still, act like there’s no archive to search?

            There’s clearly a desire to cut picture staff, with the assumption that reporters can just snap something on their smartphones or use a stock photo or ask to use someone’s Instagram snap, because what kind of newspaper needs photographers, especially when it’s not for print?

            All of this takes away the things that you’d think would actually add value to a newspaper: a sense of context and history in covering stories, an understanding of the power of images, a willingness to do more than recycle press releases.

            The future of the C-T looks like it’s The Answer Person responding to dumb questions, over and over and over.

            What kind of skills are you demanding from journalists to make the transition? More importantly, how many of those skills are worth learning for the mid-term digital newsroom?

      2. Gary J August 23, 2014

        Curious … how many of these cuts are people “under 40” and people “over 50?” It looks to me that once again, experience is trumped by a desire to “get by” with lower wages and inability to recognize what everyone brings to the table. Just because a tablet wasn’t around when these folks started their careers, doesn’t mean they have lost their ability for story-telling, photojournalism and reporting.

  11. Katy August 23, 2014

    I love Ashvegas, and this is important reporting, but I see some proofreading issues in this post. In the first paragraph, a reorganization that went into “affect,” rather than the correct “effect.” And newspaper’s in the second sentence is missing an apostrophe.
    I hope this helps. I know no one can afford a copy editor these days, which is terrible and speaks to the point of this article. All the best to you, Jason.

    1. Jason Sandford August 23, 2014

      Thank you, Katy.

      1. D.Dial August 23, 2014

        Also this is not clear…”Casey is also a reporter at the newspaper. (Did not reapply for a job.)”

        Her Mother did not reapply, but did Casey also not reapply?

        1. Jason Sandford August 25, 2014

          Casey reapplied.

  12. Patti Liming August 22, 2014

    First it was Susan Reinhardt and now, a year later, seven more dedicated staff. It seems loyalty only goes one way and I’m sorry for the staff who lost their jobs. We have been following those reporters for years, so they seem like family. Enough is enough! We are canceling our subscription as of today.

  13. Susan Reinhardt August 22, 2014

    I’m so glad I’m out, and praying for those who lost their jobs. They will be so much happier !

    1. Kathy L. Hyatt August 27, 2014

      [email protected]

      Susan…..the best thing that the ACT ever done nowfor you was to let you go….so you could spread your wings and fly even higher….than before!! You were the BEST columnist there…..and they lost a lot of readershipwhen they let you go. There will be even more lost now.

  14. Radio Follower August 22, 2014

    So sad. These are good people who bring experience and passion to their work. I’m with you Jason: My heart goes out to all. I’ve been in that boat. Fortunately (knock on wood), I was able to that boat back in the water and not sink.

  15. Richard Parker August 22, 2014

    meanwhile, former publisher still has a condo across the street, maintains a residence in Florida, and recently bought his wife a horse. Isn’t that cute.

  16. marv parker August 22, 2014

    So, a newspaper’s role is to provide news. Which is accomplished by reporters, reporting said news. The more reporters, the more news (see where this is going?).

    Sales/ad depts. somehow manage to avoid layoffs that afflict news operations.

    So, what are they gonna sell when there is no one gathering news? Press releases from advertisers? Actually, that’s what Gannett is attempting to do, from my perspective. Non controversial journalism, no prying questions from pesky reporters, just assembly line pablum, to keep ads separated on the page.

    I keep wondering, how are the journalism schools/depts. reacting to this. And, the final question, why would anyone want to get into journalism these days?

  17. theOtherBarry August 22, 2014

    Luckily, Turner Opponent has a fully staffed media shop churning out press releases to reprint as ‘news’.

    1. Murphy August 22, 2014

      It’s all he’s got…

  18. Mike M August 22, 2014

    In the case of this company, it’s the the newsroom of the past and future that’s run by douchebags.

  19. Leslie Boyd August 22, 2014

    I hope this is all. I am sick about all of this. Forcing people to re-apply for their own jobs is degrading and cruel. Making them wait two weeks for “results” is even worse. I want nothing more to do with Gannett. Ever.

    1. Gary J August 23, 2014

      Ive been there, Leslie…not this paper, but in other positions and it is demeaning to “reapply.” By the time you’re done with the process, you ask yourself, “did I really want this, that badly?” Sad.

  20. WNCRod August 22, 2014


  21. Richard Parker August 22, 2014

    the newsroom of the future is apparently run by douchebags.

  22. Nikki August 22, 2014

    Polly was there for 16 years.


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