Who Will Gather the News? Shake-up at the T-D

Style Weekly

has the details of the long-rumored editorial shake-up at the Richmond Times-Dispatch: two deputy managing editors laid off, the shuttering of the South Boston bureau, the scrapping of Mark Holmberg’s column, and various reassignments of responsibility. In a nod to the increasing importance of digital media, reports Greg A Lohr, “the newspaper is emphasizing multimedia, creating a specialized ‘swat team’ of reporters and editors who will be responsible for exclusive Web content.”

I know both of the editors losing their jobs, and they have my sympathy . I hope they held out for good severance packages. One of them, Howard Owen, is a successful novelist — Rock of Ages is his latest of eight — so, I wouldn’t be surprised if he views his departure as an opportunity to pursue his true passion.

Given the mass layoffs that other newspapers have seen, the Times-Dispatch newsroom is getting off fairly easily. Here is the ineluctable reality: Readership nationally, and locally, is down, revenue growth has slowed to a crawl and costs continue to rise. Website readership is soaring, but newspapers have yet to develop a Web business model that’s as profitable as it is for print. Every newspaper in the country is being forced to make hard choices, and the T-D is no exception.

I will be particularly interested to see (a) how the T-D deploys its Web-content SWAT team, and (b) whether the T-D can generate meaningful revenues from that content.

The T-D faces some serious organizational issues in making its Web initiative a success. The T-D is part of the Media General media conglomerate, which has bequeathed authority over all websites to its Interactive Media Division (IMD). The T-D website has a lot of editorial autonomy, but, to the best of my knowledge, its business operations fall under IMD. There is an inherent tension. IMD is run by technocrats who don’t share the T-D newsroom’s journalistic ethos. Additionally, IMD managers will allocate resources in such a way as to maximize their own departmental profits (and personal bonuses), not those of the T-D. What does the T-D get out of building a bigger, stronger website? I’m not sure.

Unless Media General has figured out a way to resolve those inherent organizational tensions — usually perceived by the participants in terms of of personality clashes, with all the attendant emotional flare-ups — I question whether the T-D newsroom will have its heart in making the Web initiative a success. The ongoing saga may be an issue that Style Weekly should follow.

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6 responses to “Who Will Gather the News? Shake-up at the T-D”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    Whoever cut Mark’s column is moron. He gave a voice to a part of Richmond noone else has in a way no one else did.

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    Nobody cut his column. He quit it in disgust.

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    Jim, once again, you ignore the (white) elephant in the middle of the room.

    The Virginia Performing Arts Foundation and its proposed downtown performing arts center.

    The Times Disgrace has never completely fully disclosed their involvement in the mess and yet they still run articles and editorials on it.

    The Times Disgrace gave the VaPAF $1 million at the same time they told the artists they could not longer afford to hire reviewers and run reviews for so little ad money.

    Now the City Council races this year (especially in the moneyed First District) are essentially all about this fiasco that pits elitist ‘business interests’ against citizns and taxpayer concerns.

    And where are you, exactly? Still afraid of offending Trani, Booty, or Ukrop?

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    Deck chairs. Ice berg. ’nuff said.

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    One of the last columns that Mark Holmberg wrote was one critical of the VaPaf and how they have handled things related to that project. While before he was one of their defenders and someone who was silent when others revealed their lies and misssteps. Maybe he wanted to set the record straight before he left.

    I think if the VaPaf were being run by a bunch of liberal democrats, Bacons would be all over them like a JC Penney’s suit over and over again. How many stories can those people tell and how many times do they have to say itll all be fine next week or next month before people figure it out and those who usually cry foul about wasting tax money (like Bacons) join the cry?

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    The TD and Media General have sunk to new lows, as has their stock. It had been near $70, but now is around $36. Investment houses give it C- minuses for profitability. Overall, their readership is in decline and it’s not just the way of the industry.
    MG is corporate journalism at its worst. They are constantly squeezing costs to get blood from a stone in terms of margins.
    The TD is an example. Always a mediocre newspaper, the TD has reached new lows under the disastrous leadership of Silvestri and Proctor. Yesteryear, the TD (sort of) covered the local news, but now it’s all mindless, dumbed down pablum aimed a people under 30 (who aren’t going to read it anyway) or lower middle class white women with a high school education whom the MG managers think will like the warm and fuzzy stories about pets, kids or 70-year-olds getting married.
    In the Silvestri vision, the front page is a circus of idiotic, conflicting boxes pushing the reader here, there, nowhere. Real news is given short shrift, but we’ll sure know what Yamin’s mom cooks. Newsroom diktat has it that no story gets more than 20 inches, so you won’t read anything serious about the very real problems of this area. Silvestri and the TD treat the reader as if he or she is an idiot.
    Thus, if the content is so lame anyway, why expect the interactive stuff to be any better? That is the real conundrum. It can be done well — check out the Pilot, the Roanoke Times or The Washington Post.
    The TD and MG have fallen down so hard that the best thing that can happen is if someone else comes in and buys them. There will need to be a lot of chopping, starting in the publisher’s office and then the executive editor, followed by some good old fashioned journalism, before the newspaper and website can reach their true potential. Ditto the company.

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