UPDATE: ‘AJC’ Announces Buyouts and ‘Realignment’

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By: E&P Staff and The Associated Press

When the editor heads a memo or email message to staffers “Newsroom Realignment,” you know that what follows is likely to be pretty dramatic, both in the details and the reasoning. Such was the case today with such a message sent to all newsroom employees by Julia Wallace, editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Publisher John Mellot later announced other key changes throughout the company, including a circulation pullback.

Part of the plan: A move to enact about 80 buyouts. “We are extending a voluntary separation program offer to about 80 employees who are 55 years of age or older and have 10 years of Cox pension vesting service,” Wallace wrote. “The offer is completely voluntary. We don’t expect everyone to take the offer, but we will not limit the number who can accept….Clearly we will lose some very talented and veteran folks. It’s hard, but it’s necessary for our economic realities.”

Wallace’s message began: “Today, I announced several important changes for the AJC. These changes position our newsroom for the future and provide for continuous renewal and reinvention. They give us the structure to remain metro Atlanta’s dominant print and online news and information source.”

James Mallory, she added, will be promoted to senior managing editor and vice president/news.

Also, effective April 1, the newspaper will scale back its circulation territory to no longer include Alabama, South Carolina, Florida and many parts of Georgia. The paper had been delivered in 145 of Georgia’s 159 counties, but now will only be available in 66 counties in the state. The paper won’t be found in cities like Augusta, Columbus, Savannah and Albany.

Publisher John Mellott said those areas only account for about 5 percent of the paper’s total circulation.

The changes will mean the end of 44 circulation positions, with displaced workers offered severance packages, Mellott said. The paper also will end its relationship with 128 independent contractors who delivered the paper.

The newspaper’s parent company, Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises, also will spend $30 million on upgrading its presses in suburban Gwinnett County, with plans to close the paper’s downtown Atlanta production facility in two years. Mellott said the changes will mean the shift or loss of 98 production jobs.

The changes come as the Atlanta paper, like other newspapers, adjusts to major shifts in news consumption and advertising spending on the Internet.

“We must make these changes to respond to our readers,” Wallace wrote in her memo, which was first published at the Romenesko site at www.poynter.org. “They now have more sources than ever for news and information, and we must fundamentally alter the way we operate. Online, we will show that we know Atlanta best, providing superlative news and information and becoming the preferred medium for connecting local communities. In print, we will really listen to our core readers and create a newspaper that offers distinct and valuable content….

“That means a major shift in the way we work. Our current structure is fine for the pace and demands of a printed newspaper, but isn’t structured for online’s immediacy and evolving needs. Additionally, as we have evolved over time, we have added layers and bureaucracy and have become less nimble. Rather than tinkering with the old newsroom, we need to start over.

“What’s changing? First, we?ll untangle the bureaucracy by moving from more than a dozen departments and desks to four main departments. We’ll also reduce the number of management layers.

“The four new departments are: News & Information, Enterprise, Digital, Print.

“The idea is to separate content from production. This is a new way of thinking for us, but I believe it is the best way forward.

“The News and Information department will be responsible for news of all kinds — metro, business, features and sports. Its mission and mantra is daily watchdog and aggressive newsgathering….

“The Enterprise department will generate distinctive local content. While it will produce special projects, this is more than a projects department. It will produce a steady stream of enterprise. Print will be its focus, but it also will take full advantage of the online platform….

“The Digital department is responsible for growing online audience by offering local news and information; providing a platform for interactivity and social networking; and extending our selection beyond news to attract new audiences….

“The Print department will produce the best newspaper possible.”

After more details, the memo concluded: “We will become a new newsroom — one that is bold and assertive. We will not allow ourselves to be steamrolled by events beyond our control. We will seize control of our fate.”

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