Facing the departures of at least six experienced reporters in the next two weeks, executives at the new NOLA Media Group have changed course and offered jobs to several of the staffers who had previously been told they would not be invited to join the new company.
Sources in the newsroom say those reporters who were un-laid off in recent days include Benjamin Alexander-Bloch, Paul Purpura and Mark Waller. At least two have indicated they will accept the new company’s offer. A fourth veteran reporter, who had been offered a job on the digital side of the operation, will likely continue in a traditional reporting role.
Explaining the change of plans, a newsroom source told Gambit, “We’re losing a lot of institutional memory.” Two weeks ago, another source had described the mood in the executive suite as "shitting bricks" due to the number of people who had found other jobs, and how soon they were leaving.
Nineteen reporters from downtown and The Times-Picayune’s various bureaus — most of which have been decimated — have been summoned to the newsroom on Howard Avenue tomorrow for a meeting where they expect to learn the details of their new beats.
A few of those changes that will be announced in the near future:
• Longtime City Hall reporters Frank Donze and Michelle Krupa are leaving the paper July 20. Their replacements on the city government beat will be Rich Rainey of the Jefferson Parish bureau and Claire Galofaro of the paper’s Northshore bureau. Rainey and Galofaro were seen in council chambers today, being introduced to councilmembers and their staffers.
• Crime/cops reporter Brendan McCarthy, who will join WWL-TV this fall as an investigative reporter, will leave the paper July 27. His replacement will be Ramon Antonio Vargas, a Northshore reporter who began his career as a part-timer in the downtown newsroom. Vargas had been offered a job reporting on sports in the new company, but the job description changed in recent days due to the downtown departures.
• Also leaving July 27: Cindy Chang, the primary author of the paper’s recent series on Louisiana prisons. Chang has accepted a job covering immigration and ethnic affairs at the Los Angeles Times.
• Besides Donze, Krupa, McCarthy and Chang, Bill Barrow and David Hammer will be leaving this month. Hammer’s last day is July 13; like McCarthy, he will join WWL-TV later this year. Barrow, who is Krupa’s husband, has accepted a job at the Associated Press in Atlanta, while Krupa is said to be in talks with CNN. Donze is also said to have a job lined up and will likely remain in New Orleans. UPDATE: The Audubon Nature Institute has announced Donze will become its new communications director, effective Aug. 1.
• Also leaving the paper: Paul Rioux, who covers Jefferson Parish and the West Bank. Rioux has accepted a job with the Bureau of Governmental Research.
Other reporters have been talking to local TV stations about a job change. WDSU-TV has had discreet talks with several Times-Picayune employees, though WVUE-TV has been making inquiries as well.
Besides the un-layoffs, the NOLA Media Group may be having a change of mind about another topic. The Times-Picayune employee support site Dash30DashNOLA tweeted earlier today that the paper would distribute “special New Orleans Saints editions on Mondays this fall, distribute free via NP boxes.”
Gambit could not confirm that plan had been finalized, but there have been discussions about the feasibility of a small Saints-focused broadsheet distributed on Mondays, and at least one freelance sports reporter has been contacted about the possibility of working weekends on some sort of print product.
The new company is hiring in the sports department, and at least two familiar local sports journalists have interviewed for the Saints beat writer position posted July 2 on Craigslist. Sports editor Doug Tatum did not return a call tonight about the company's plans for a Monday section.