Incoming 'Star-Ledger' Editor: Web, Print Need More Distinction

By: Joe Strupp Look for The Star-Ledger to make changes to its Web approach that differentiate it more from the print newspaper under incoming Editor Kevin Whitmer.

Whitmer, 42, who was named to succeed Jim Willse earlier this week at the Newark, N.J., daily, says the Web offerings have to be more distinct than content in print. He also said the online will likely expand to be more conversational and include more non-news items. Among them, expanded local town pages.

"The most important thing is for us to evolve into two noticeably different products," said Whitmer, who will take over at the end of the month. "Right now, there is too much sameness to the content we put in the paper and online."

Whitmer, who joined th paper in 1996 and has served as sports editor, managing editor and in various other positions, says the Web approach has to include a quicker, updated report. "The problem we have run into is that we have run out of hours in the day and production time to turn around another version of the story," he says. "I don't want to pick up the paper and see the same version of the story we had at 3 o'clock in the afternoon the previous day."

He adds that "sometimes we go too deep, too early."

Whitmer takes over as the newsroom, with about 200 staffers, is one-third smaller than it was a year ago when buyouts reduced the staff.

The paper is also facing a circulation crunch, having lost some 95,000 in Sunday circulation in the last Audit Bureau off Circulations FAS-FAX, for the six months ending March 31, 2009, and another 58,000 daily. It currently has 404, 903 Sunday subscribers and 287,082 daily.

"Long-term, there are challenges everywhere," Whitmer says. "We are not unique in the challenges we face. But we are positioned to come out of this stronger than we have been comparably in a long time."

He says the smaller staff can still cover what it must by utilizing all resources, which include the recently created combined statehouse bureau with The Record of Hackensack. "We will continue to look for opportunities to share content and share resources on any level," he said.

He also plans to keep the top editors in place, with no plans for major outside hires.

"The biggest challenge is following Jim," Whitmer said of Willse, who held the editor title since 1995 and brought the paper its only two Pulitzer Prizes. When Willse announced his retirement to the ownership, he suggested Whitmer replace him.

Whitmer adds that, "there will still be a lot of Jim in that office," citing Willse's hard-news approach.

But Whitmer says he may delegate more than his predecessor: "I want to coach and encourage and give people the freedom to make what they consider to be the best decisions. I want to try to do a little bit more early on in having people across the newsroom make some decisions."


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