Seals' abrupt departure is the latest development in a tumultuous time for the daily and is the most significant leadership change in the newsroom since the November 2005 hiring of Executive Editor Glenn Proctor.
According to sources at the paper, human-resource employees escorted Seals from the T-D's East Franklin Street building downtown on Thursday, July 27.
Seals returned to the building Monday, July 31. Appearing upset and accompanied by Proctor, sources say, she bid quiet farewells to newsroom staff. Later that day, the T-D issued a press release extolling Seals' 38 years of service, and saying she was retiring "to spend more time with her family."
Some T-D staffers have been anxious about a promised reorganization plan and are being kept tight-lipped by executives. As reported by Editor & Publisher in July, T-D execs recently called a newsroom meeting to reinforce their no-comment media policy, requiring reporters to seek a series of approvals before speaking with outside reporters and telling them to work elsewhere if they did not like the policy. The meeting followed a Style story on changes at the paper.
T-D spokeswoman Frazier Millner referred all questions from Style to the press release on Seals, and would not say whether Seals was escorted from the building the previous week.
"I've been thinking about retiring for awhile," Seals was quoted as saying in the release. This surprised Nancy Wright Beasley, a former state correspondent for The Richmond News Leader, who says she recently asked Seals if she planned to retire soon. Beasley says Seals replied no, because she was president-elect of the Virginia Press Association.
Seals is known as a smart, diligent, hardworking and occasionally abrasive editor. She started at the Times-Dispatch in 1968 and became the paper's first female managing editor in 1994. She's won numerous national and local awards and was inducted into the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame in 2003 one of only 13 women included to date.
In other changes at the T-D, columnist Randy Fitzgerald, senior writer at the University of Richmond, says the newspaper abruptly canceled his column two weeks ago. He'd been a Friday columnist for the News Leader, then the Times-Dispatch, for 18 years, writing mostly gentle musings on life.
Fitzgerald says editors asked him to write a farewell column. Then they made several edits, erasing phrases such as "given all the changes underway at the Times-Dispatch." They later killed the column (you can read it at the end of this article).
Instead, the paper ran a paragraph saying Fitzgerald's last column had already appeared, he says, giving the impression of "an immaculate departure."
"It is bizarre, isn't it?" he says. SEditor's Note: The Richmond Times-Dispatch has canceled Randy Fitzgerald's 18-year column. Editors did not publish his final installment last week. Here it is:
After 18 years, a columnist says goodbye.
by Randy Fitzgerald
Eighteen years, four months, three weeks.
Nine hundred and fifty-seven columns.
I have never missed a week of submitting a column, though two were turned down as too political. I wrote them sick or well, even on vacations with a laptop, in the offices of hotel managers, at storefront computer places, in the car. I faxed them in. I e-mailed them in. I phoned them in. I always felt I was writing a letter to a friend. This is the last one.
I learned last week what I had been expecting for awhile, given all the changes under way at the Times-Dispatch: My column was being dropped. I've always been a freelancer, so I'm an easy person to let go. My space will apparently be filled with hard news.
It's been fun. At one point the column had a name, "Close to Home," and that heading defined it as well as anything ever could. I've always written about home and family, friends, neighbors, and this city I love -- always trying to capture with humor and understanding some of the universal experiences of the various stages of marriage, child rearing and a working man's life.
My children grew up in this column, my wife turned gray in this column. I lost my hair and two inches in height in this space. My picture has morphed from that of a 220-pound, apple-cheeked beefeater to my current status as a 148-pound vegan, a change wrought not by soulful conversion but through conversations with my arteries.
I began the column in 1988 in The Richmond News Leader and then moved with it to the Times-Dispatch when the two papers merged in 1992. When I gave speeches in those early days to various groups around town, I was always too nervous to eat the meals that were usually my payment for speaking. Nowadays, after more than 500 such speeches, I have no such trouble. But sadly, 18 years older, I have slipped over into occasionally forgetting about a scheduled speech altogether, leaving an audience of seniors on one occasion no doubt stomping their feet and clapping rhythmically as they waited, fruitlessly, for me to show up. I apologize. When I come for the make-up speech, I guess I'll have to call myself the former Randy Fitzgerald.
I've loved my readers, especially receiving their letters, calls, e-mails and meeting them in person. That's the real "interactive" journalism. Maybe we can keep in touch, though, through a blog I'm starting at http://randyfitzgerald.blog.com.
If you've been a reader, you know I'm a saver. I have every one of the e-mails and letters. Every Christmas I pick 10 or 12 from the boxes in the spare room and send out cards to those folks. The most constant theme in the mail has been "your life is exactly like my life." That's what I've always thought, too.
In 18 years, I've heard -- believe it or not -- from only a handful of disgruntled readers, one of them coincidentally, just last week. "Why do you always write about your wife?" he wrote. "You must be the most henpecked man in the world."
The day I learned I would be writing just one more column, I wrote this guy a note, telling him I had given much thought to his helpful letter and decided he was right. "As a result," I said facetiously, "I have decided to give up the column I've been writing for 18 years and devote that time to asserting myself as a man. Thank you for your amazing insight and role-modeling."
I thought that was a funny response, but since this gentleman took the time to ask the question, let me answer it as I go out. Yes, Barb has been a mighty presence in this column, and most readers understood that including her has been at least partially my "shtick." over the years. Sometimes she liked it more than other times. The columns were all true, and having Barb along for the journey -- inside the column and out -- adds an awful lot of love and humor to every story.
And after all, sometimes -- like this morning for me -- a body might as well laugh.
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