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New roles, techniques and innovations hit Gannett newsrooms

Changes ahead daily newspaper headlineOn Tuesday, Gannett joined a number of other media organizations in the country with its announcement that it was spinning its publishing branch off from its broadcast division, making the two wholly separate companies. In the days since, several of Gannett’s newspaper executives have penned letters to their readers detailing some of the coming changes.

Tennessean executive editor Stefanie Murray noted yesterday that the daily would be working toward making the newsroom of the future. Although she didn’t specify, she said the newspaper will be using “scientific principles even more than before” to listen to what readers want. Meanwhile, newsroom positions are changing, and old employees will be able to apply for new positions. New roles include a reporter to cover University of Tennessee athletics, two reporters to cover Nashville’s retail scene, and a reporter focused on tourism. Additionally, the paper plans to add a four-person investigative team, as well as columnists covering metro, sports, the neighborhood, human interest stories, and food. The paper will also have new staff members whose job it is to engage with the community. On the executive team, Maria De Varenne will serve as news director and David Anesta will serve in the new position of consumer experience director. In this role, he will direct content across all platforms including print, the website, and phone and tablet apps.

At the Pensacola News-Journal, two copy editors were let go as the paper moved production to the design studio in Nashville, a transition that has been in progress for five weeks. The paper will also be adding two reporter positions. Editor Lisa Nellessen-Lara noted that the News-Journal is aiming “to provide even more local content, deeper content, more investigative reporting and master storytelling. We are investing in the news and information that makes Pensacola a better place to live, that helps our readers live better lives and to have a better community.”

Although the Greenville News’ managing editor, William Fox, did not detail the “wrenching changes” going on in the paper’s newsroom, he noted that over the past week, the paper has “embarked on a sweeping overhaul of how we gather the news and publish that information online and in print.” What is clear from his letter to readers is that management positions and production-related roles will be downsized, while new roles are being created. He goes on to say that the paper will be sending more reporters “on the street” and also build its focus on investigative journalism.  “We are reinvesting in reporting resources and new tools to position us to build on the digital growth we have already achieved,” he wrote. The Asheville Citizen-Times’ executive editor, Josh Awtry, said much the same about the Citizen-Times, which is also set to ramp up its “watchdog journalism” team.

Executive editor Hollis Towns of the Asbury Park Press outlined changes in that paper’s newsroom, including hiring more reporters to better cover the community and putting more resources into digital, such as its new apps. As with the Greenville News, management positions will be cut, and reporters will have more access to the site to load their own news. With a focus on local engagement, Towns noted that reporters will be more enmeshed within the community, while the newspaper will host events to keep in line with its local involvement.

According to Poynter.org’s Sam Kirkland, who spoke with Gannett executives, “the goal is to better attract an audience of 25- to 45-year-olds … That means reaching readers beyond print.” As a result, readers will have a better say in what’s being covered, while the traditional assignment editor position will transition into more of a coach to help reporters build skills. Additionally, existing staffers will have to reapply for newsroom jobs, largely because most of the roles and concepts behind the jobs are being redefined. No doubt, more changes will continue to unfold as Gannett revamps and renews its print division to meet the demands of an ever-changing landscape.

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