The Richmond Times-Dispatch is negotiating with its employees' union after firing two prominent editors and unveiling a plan to restructure its newsroom staff.
The newspaper dismissed John Dillon and Howard Owen, both deputy managing editors, Oct. 24. Two days later, Executive Editor Glenn Proctor announced a proposed newsroom reorganization that includes demotions, promotions, the end of at least one regular column, and the shuttering of a few bureaus, such as the one in South Boston.
In addition to the restructuring, the newspaper is emphasizing multimedia, creating a specialized "swat team" of reporters and editors who will be responsible for exclusive Web content.
The changes came less then a week after well-regarded Times-Dispatch reporter Mark Holmberg announced the end of his weekly column. Longtime Managing Editor Louise Seals resigned July 31.
If the union approves the restructuring changes, several assistant editors would lose their sections and titles. They'd become "rewrite editors," mainly handling stories sent from other Media General properties. Gone would be Cynthia McMullen's "Whatever" column in the Weekend section. And in an example of a promotion, Metro Editor Andy Taylor would head both the Metro and Virginia sections.
Also on Thursday, Proctor and James Meath outside counsel for T-D parent company Media General were among the company representatives who met with union officials from the Richmond Newspapers Professional Association.
The union has no stance on the restructuring because it's still seeking answers from the Times-Dispatch and Media General, says Jay J. Levit, who has a private law practice in Glen Allen and is the attorney for the newspaper's union.
"We want to know about them contracting out union work," Levit says. "We've given them questions about the reorganization itself. We've given them a lot of questions that we want to get answers to."
Frazier Millner, promotion manager for the Times-Dispatch, acknowledges the negotiations and says the company hopes its reorganization will take place within the next two months. She describes the proposed closure of a few bureaus as "streamlining."
"We'll be a better newspaper," Millner says. "We have extensive readership surveys that we conducted last fall. We have lots of feedback from public squares, news roundtables. It's pretty clear our readers and advertisers are asking us to change, and that's what we're doing."
Many in the newsroom, however, question the changes and say morale is at an all-time low. They talk of being surprised by elements of the reorganization and of "numerous vacancies" in the newsroom. Millner attributes the poor morale to "the difficult nature of change in general."
"Transition is hard," she says. "We know that. But while other newspapers have resorted to mass layoffs, it's important to note here that every single person in the room [on Oct. 26] still has a job."
Some of those people have mixed emotions about their employer and the proposed changes. "I have no great love for the place," one newsroom employee says, speaking anonymously. "I used to. But a lot of the changes they announced make sense." S