'Indy Star' Editor Defends Paper From Ousted Biz Editor's Complaints

By: Joe Strupp Dennis Ryerson, editor of The Indianapolis Star, challenged the claim by ousted business-section editor Vickie Elmer that she had been unable to hire new people for her staff, saying he is actively recruiting for four business section positions.

"I am looking to replace her, as well as hire a deputy business editor, a reporter, and a business columnist," said Ryerson, who would not comment specifically on Elmer's Thursday departure. "We had slowed hiring, but we are back in the game filling positions."

Elmer left her post as assistant managing editor/business after 14 months on the job, citing staffing limits as among her reasons for departure, in a widely circulated memo. The terse memo claimed that parent company Gannett was partly to blame for the limited resources, saying it was tightening its "grip on the paper." She repeated her concerns about Gannett in comments to E&P this morning.

Ryerson disagreed, saying that in addition to the business recruitment, he had hired a sportswriter and a graphic designer in the past few weeks. "We also have about a dozen positions we are filling," he added.

Elmer objected to what she termed a changing focus for the business section, away from a mix of personal-finance and feature stories -- along with hard news -- to more corporate and "elite" stories, "focusing more of the stories on the top five percent of the audience," Elmer said. "Senior managers, executives and business owners."

Ryerson would not specifically respond to Elmer's complaints, but he admitted that the business section was seeking a more hard-core approach along with personal finance topics. "My No. 1 interest is serving the core business reader," Ryerson said. "We have lost some of that franchise over the years. I don't want to get into an argument with Vickie. But I want a business section that is compelling every day."

Elmer said she had been asked to either follow the new approach or take another position at the paper. She said none of the other posts were attractive, so she left. "I could not see myself in another position, so we parted ways," Elmer added. "But they basically pushed me out."

Ryerson declined to comment on whether Elmer was fired or quit. "It is a personnel issue," he said.

Elmer, who is from Detroit, said she was "wined and dined" by the Star in late 2003 to take the job after seven years in several business section posts at Newsday in Melville, N.Y. "I gave up a very interesting and cool job to come here," she told E&P. "They took me to fancy restaurants and talked up the city. It was a substantial pay package and a hiring bonus."

She said the paper promised her a mixed approach to business coverage, as well freedom to hire at least five people to fill business-section openings. "I added two people to my staff, including one who came over from the projects team," Elmer said. "But then the hiring freeze hit in August. I also lost two people during that time, so my staff was still down."

The former editor, who said she would like to join another newspaper or magazine, made clear that it would likely not be another Gannett publication. "It has given me pause about Gannett," she said about her experience. "The whole staffing resources issue. They're not hiring a sizeable enough staff. There is not enough of a sense of being able to do good work."

She called her departure a "red flag" about Gannett. "When good people can be sent packing, it raises cautions [about Gannett]," she added. "It's a worrisome sign."

Ryerson, who joined the Star two years ago, confirmed that Elmer had been the third assistant managing editor/business to leave in four years. But, he said other editing posts had also seen higher turnover in the recent past, a situation he believes is changing. "We are seeking more stability in all departments and I think it is happening," he added.


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