The Asheville Citizen-Times announced earlier this week (paywalled story) that Executive Editor Josh Awtry was leaving his job to take on a new role at the newspaper’s parent company, Gannett Co.
Awtry, long ago identified as an up-and-coming company star, lasted in Asheville for about two years. He’ll be working in “a strategic role” with the USA Today Network at the Gannett mothership in McLean, Va. The USA Today Network is the new brand name for the Gannett’s 90-some community newspapers that it owns across the U.S. (After several years of layoffs at its newspapers, the company decided it best to market the combined power of all its newspapers, in hopes of diverting attention on its withering local entities.)
In response to a congratulations on the new gig, Awtry responded: “Nervous about not being a newsroom,excited to help make a difference across the country.”
Awtry’s departure leaves the local newspaper’s two top jobs vacant. Publisher Dave Neill announced last September that he was resigning to spend more time with his family in south Florida. Gannett is expected to announce a new publisher for the Citizen-Times, and its sister newspaper in Greenville, S.C., soon and said it would begin the search for a new editor immediately. The company also announced that Tom Claybaugh, the publisher of Gannett’s Central New York publications, would step in as interim president of the two newspapers.
During his short tenure, Awtry oversaw a dramatic newsroom reorganization, as well as another round of layoffs. The 2014 reorganization was billed as the creation of a “newsroom of the future.” The plan was to focus newsroom employees on the digital delivery of information first. Awtry had mastered the tracking of digital metrics known generically as “engagement” in Colorado. In Asheville, he installed a giant flat-screen television in the newsroom that showed reporters which stories were getting read most online, and shared most on social media platforms such as Facebook.
As part of the reorganization, Gannett essentially fired the Citizen-Times newsroom staff and forced anyone interested in sticking around to apply for newly defined jobs. Awtry oversaw the removal of reporter Clarke Morrison and editor Polly McDaniel, and ushered out the door five other employees who didn’t reapply for jobs.
Awtry, steeped in sci-fi fandom and gadget nerd-dom, boosted newsroom moral after a previous blood-letting round of layoffs. He moved the newsroom from its second-floor perch at 14 O. Henry Ave. down to the first floor (to be closer to the people) and brought readers in on a regular basis for behind-the-scenes peeks.
Awtry also forced stodgy Citizen-Times reporters to start getting active on social media. Before his arrival, reporters had little presence on Twitter or Facebook. Today, C-T reporters have all but taken over an Asheville politics page on Facebook and at least send out a tweet or two during breaking news.
Awtry says via Twitter he’ll be sticking around Western North Carolina for a few more weeks:
Thanks so much! It’s happening fast… Staying in WNC for awhile — gotta hit the spring trails. (Who knows, maybe I can telecommute!)
I hope some day you can drop the chip from your shoulder. At this point, it just feels petty.
Whatever happened to the Raleigh Digest, Mouthpiece? Seems like that was your ideal publication, and yet it just seems to have vanished.
After two years he was still unable to get rid of faceless, nameless commenters.
I’m curious what you, as our local media guru and a former Citizen-Times reporter, think of Josh Awtry’s tenure. Did he improve the paper? Does he leave it in a better situation than he found? Which of his initiatives worked? Which didn’t?