Weighing the impact of a smaller, reorganized Asheville Citizen-Times newsroom

Jason Sandford

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

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asheville_citizen_times_2013What will the impact be of a smaller, reorganized Asheville Citizen-Times newsroom? Lots of folks in the community are wondering as they await details following the announcement last week that the Citizen-Times and four other Gannett-owned newspapers were undertaking a major restructuring.

The goal is two-fold: cut costs and create a newsroom focused more than ever on delivering information online first and in print last.

Last week, Citizen-Times employees applied for redefined newsroom jobs. At least four people have decided not to apply, including reporter Barbara Blake, who has worked at the Citizen-Times for 40 years. It’s unclear how many jobs will actually be cut – I’ve heard roughly four or five positions will be lost.

Still, Citizen-Times Editor Josh Awtry has promised more reporting assets, and that will likely be accomplished by taking middle management editor positions and turning them into reporting and “digital producer” positions. Another result of the restructuring will be the regionalization of some reporting positions, because Gannett owns both the Citizen-Times and the Greenville News in Greenville, S.C. Awtry serves as editor of both. Details have yet to be announced.

At least one email circulating among Asheville business leaders details the changes at the newspaper and includes a note of worry about the changes. It urges people to contact Awtry and Publisher Dave Neill to express any concerns.

In Nashville, where The Tennessean newspaper is undergoing a similar restructuring, the local alternative weekly delivers an excellent breakdown of the impact. The Nashville Scene puts the impact in context following a detailed explanation of changes by the daily newspaper’s VP of content. A snippet:

Now, there is certainly a Hunger Games aspect to all of this as they take the number of middle managers from 10 or 11 down to 4. But for other parts of the newsroom, they’re also re-grading the jobs. So, for instance, if my current HR classification is Photographer 3, I look at the new organization chart and see that not only are there fewer slots (from 10 down to 6), there are now only Photographer 2 and Photographer 1 slots, with lower salaries. How many staffers will lose money in this? It depends on who applies.

Current and former Tennessean staff will tell you that morale has been a problem for a long time. But the idea of making an entire newsroom look at a chart and choose two jobs they can apply for is insane.

Gannett HR will make the final evaluations, although input from senior management will play a part. This would seem to explain the — unconfirmed — raft of negative evaluations the Scene heard about in the last few months coming from Tennessean managers. Was groundwork being laid?

At the New York Times, David Carr also takes a dim view of the results of the changes in Gannett newsrooms:

At Gannett newspapers, reader metrics will drive coverage and journalists will work with dashboards of data to guide reporting. After years of layoffs, many staff members were immediately told that they had to reapply for jobs when the split was announced. In an attempt to put some lipstick on an ugly pivot, Stefanie Murray, executive editor of The Tennessean, promised readers “an ambitious project to create the newsroom of the future, right here in Nashville. We are testing an exciting new structure that is geared toward building a dynamic, responsive newsroom.” (Jim Romenesko, who blogs about the media industry, pointed out that Gannett also announced “the newsroom of the future” in 2006.)

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The Nashville Scene noted that readers had to wait only one day to find out what the news of the future looks like: a Page 1 article in The Tennessean about Kroger, a grocery store and a major advertiser, lowering its prices.

If this is the future — attention news shoppers, Hormel Chili is on sale in Aisle 5 — what is underway may be a kind of mercy killing.

Jason Sandford

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

  • 1

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  1. Melissa August 12, 2014

    Mind-blowing: “Gannett has eliminated more than a third of its employees since 2005.”


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