Hiott: Saying goodbye to retirees but looking forward to the next chapter



When I was a kid, the holidays were occasionally bittersweet.

That’s because sometimes that was when the military transfer orders came. A move meant a very compressed period of mourning the loss of friends. There was little time to get adjusted and start looking ahead — usually with some excitement — to what was next.

That’s kind of the way it feels at the Statesman right now, as 17 of our colleagues are taking an early retirement offer. Of those, 15 are from the newsroom, including two – Editorial Page Editor Arnold García and investigative reporter Brenda Bell – who had previously announced their retirements. Others include senior editors Drew Marcks and Sharon Roberts, Sunday editor Tony Shuga, Photo Director Jay Godwin, photographer Alberto Martínez, outdoor writer Mike Leggett, sports reporters Randy Riggs, Mark Rosner and John Maher, business reporter Kirk Ladendorf, metro reporters Juan Castillo and Ricardo Gandara and features reporter Helen Anders. Round Rock Leader Editor Brad Stutzman also took the offer. So did a former newsroom stalwart, designer G.W. Babb, who ended his tenure here as a member of the marketing team.

It’s a veteran crew of extremely talented journalists who will be missed tremendously. We’ve feted them and paid tribute — although there aren’t enough words to describe what they’ve contributed to their colleagues, the newspaper and the community — but now we’ve got to look ahead.

We’re filling many of those positions, and a dozen new hires won’t happen in a day or two. We’re making changes now to reorganize around our future. That includes a dual role of protecting the quality of our core product, the print newspaper, even as we explore more ways of providing digital content across several platforms.

We have a good start on the challenging task with several promotions we’ve made and some new hires, including Viewpoints Editor Tara Trower Doolittle, who will replace García leading the Statesman’s commentary and editorial efforts in mid-December.

Doolittle, 39, may be familiar to some Statesman readers and sources for her time as a reporter covering city and county government and schools. She has also headed up editing teams on the metro, state and features desks.

But a couple of years ago Doolittle left for the University of Texas, where she has served as director of media outreach. In that role she helped to shape commentary strategy for the university, including helping to write and edit editorials for publication in mainstream media outlets; set up community outreach efforts on behalf of the new medical school — including the recent town hall forum; and helped to develop a new social media strategy for UT’s central channels, all in addition to working with all of the campus communications representatives. The combination of Doolittle’s skills as a journalist with her skills in communication and outreach will be valuable to the paper as we look to bring more voices into print and online.

The Austin area has many vibrant points of view, from a traditionally liberal core to a more conservative suburban ring. We have a diverse readership area that is increasingly Hispanic, as well as Asian- and African-American. In the midst of boom times for many, we’re seeing higher poverty rates and an education gap that must be addressed. It’s our job on the opinion pages and in our online commentary to capture the varied views encompassed by those and other differences.

Doolittle will have help, as Gissela SantaCruz, a veteran reporter of our Spanish-language weekly ahora sí, joins veteran editorial writers Alberta Phillips and Jody Seaborn on the team. SantaCruz, 43, has been at the Statesman since 1998, first as a web producer, then transitioning into a reporting role and helping to launch ahora sí in 2005. There she has been an award-winning reporter while also helping to edit, design and run the website and social media accounts. In addition to her reporting background, SantaCruz brings to the team her strong digital skills and knowledge of the community.

Outside of the opinion pages, we are promoting local editor Andy Alford to be a senior editor for news, where she’ll oversee our efforts in metro, state and community coverage. She’s a former city and schools reporter who also worked on the projects team before becoming an editor. In 2005 she was named Journalist of the Year by the National Association of Black Journalists.

Debra Davis, our state editor, will take over the key role of working with our investigative team and overseeing Sunday coverage and the Insight section. She has a deep knowledge of the area and high standards for reporting and writing, so we’re excited to have her steering our biggest and best watchdog work into the paper and online.

Jason Jarrett, who has been leading all of our community newspapers, will also take on the role of sports editor. He’ll be making sure that a franchise area of coverage, Longhorn sports, continues to thrive, and he will work on bolstering our preps coverage with our existing reporters and the team of sports editors who handle that coverage for our weekly papers.

Scott Ladd, who has been the front page editor, will have a broader role as presentations editor, working with the design and editing desks and the assigning desks to make sure we’re presenting our news in an appealing way for readers. He’s a veteran designer with an understanding of the community’s news needs and a strong creative streak.

Bob Gee, a former Middle East correspondent who has been editing our urban affairs team, will take over editing the state desk, where we continue to do some of our best work — and some of the best work in the state — holding politicians and policymakers accountable to the public.

And Nell Carroll, who has been both a photographer and a photo editor, will become our new photo director, leading a team of award-winning photographers who are also doing more and more video for our websites.

It’s a strong leadership team with deep roots in Central Texas and a passion for covering the news for their friends and neighbors and readers throughout.

In the coming weeks we’ll also be hiring reporters on business, metro and sports and ahora sí. We’ve bulked up our music team with two hires — Deborah Sengupta Stith, a web producer who has been a frequent contributor to the entertainment section, and Peter Blackstock, a veteran music writer who started at the Statesman and left to co-found No Depression magazine. And for Longhorns coverage we lured former Dallas Morning News sports reporter Brian Davis back to the newspaper business.

Along with the reporting hires, we’ll be adding to our digital team, including a video editor, a couple of videographers, a web content producer with a focus on audience and a database reporter to work with the investigative team.

We have a lot of talent to replace, but we’re determined to get there. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be doing justice to the legacy of those 17 retirees.


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