Dave Neill steps into the role of publisher of the Asheville Citizen-Times, filling a job left vacant following the recent retirement of former publisher Randy Hammer. Neill has his work cut out for him, to say the least.
For the past couple of months, the newspaper’s parent company, Gannett, has been shedding jobs in another round of wide layoffs. Those job losses arrived in Asheville two weeks ago when eight people, including six newsroom employees (including me) were shown the door. Perhaps the newspaper’s best known personality, columnist Susan Reinhardt, was among those laid off. Community reaction was swift, with folks decrying the move and, in some cases, canceling subscriptions.
The cuts leave the newsroom – the actual producers of the daily product – severely depleted. In the meantime, there is greater demand that ever to produce more continuous content for the newspaper’s website. (The focus of late has been on video content.) The need to feed the website is critical as the newspaper tries to figure out how to make more money online. The newspaper started charging people to read its online content about two years ago. Still, the vast majority of newspaper revenue comes from the dying print product.
The layoffs leave the newspaper more alienated than ever from the community – a big problem by Neill’s own accounting. Here’s what he said upon the announcement of his hiring in Asheville:
“I think the newspaper’s responsibility is to help lead the community, by educating, asking the community to think, and giving the community a progress report on daily basis on how things are going,” he said. “There has to be a close connection to the community or the business model fails.”
Needless to say, I’ll be watching closely to see how Neill plans to restore that “close connection to the community” after his new company just gutted a critical component – the news-gathering force that touches the community on a daily basis.
Neill was hired from outside the Gannett company, which is somewhat unusual, at least for the company’s history that I’ve been familiar with the past 15 years or so. Neill, 51, most recently worked as publisher of the Naples Daily News in Florida. That newspaper is owned by the E.W. Scripps Company.
Neill came up through newspaper ranks on the advertising side of the hallowed wall separating the ad business from the editorial business of the newspaper. He’s said to be an idea guy, and everyone I’ve talked to believes he will focus his initial attention on that department here in Asheville. There have been some recent vacancies there already, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there was more of a shake-up to follow.
In the meantime, Gannett is rolling out redesigned websites at its local newspapers. The website designs will be similar to usatoday.com. It’s a cookie-cutter approach to web design to keep costs down and allow for easy national advertising placements.
As for what’s to come, here’s my one prediction: look for the Citizen-Times to stop printing a newspaper seven days a week sometime within the next eight to 12 months. Readers already notice that Monday and Tuesday’s newspapers are as thin as corporate double-talk. Wednesdays are still critical for coupons. Fridays are big as a vehicle for the entertainment weekly the newspaper produces. And Sundays are still the day the with the biggest focus in terms of deep content.
Plenty more to come on this front. Stay tuned.
Good thing AshVegas doesn’t pretend to represent actual journalism. “…look for the Citizen-Times to stop printing a newspaper seven days a week sometime within the next eight to 12 months.” Lol. When has it ever been more appropriate to ask, “you mad bro?” #1 rule of journalism: don’t bury lede. #2 rule of journalism: make sure to express how butt-hurt you are in your article. AshVegas is to journalism as professional wrestling is to sports. No wonder you got fired dude.
Sorry to hear about the layoffs. It’s sad for the people that lost their jobs. It’s sad for the readers as they will get less local news. Good luck to Neill! Maybe he can fix what a Hammer broke. (pun intended)
“newspaper’s responsibility is to help lead the community, by educating, asking the community to think, and giving the community a progress report on daily basis on how things are going,” he said. “There has to be a close connection to the community or the business model fails.”
This might well be why the ACT is declining. I am well aware of how the BC School Board gets spun by ACT vs. what actually transpires at it’s meetings. Anyone who attends with an open mind will see how one sided the reports are, and via word of mouth it destroys the credibility of the paper.