Visalia Times-Delta Struggles to Keep Autonomy

A few days ago a very high profile homicide in Salinas was reported on the front page of the Visalia Times-Delta (VTD). If readers were wondering why Tulare County would be interested in a homicide in Salinas, the answer would be that they most likely are not. But local interests don’t seem to be the main driving force behind VTD’s content anymore — Gannett is. If recent issues of the Times-Delta are anything to judge by, readers here are going to be learning a lot more about the Salinas Valley–weather and all.

Pete Wevurski has been the interim editor of the Visalia Times-Delta since June, 2014. He was named permanent Executive Editor for the VTD earlier this year. He is also the Executive Editor of the Salinas Californian. As recetly as January 20, he says he travels between Visalia and Salinas almost weekly. Besides the newspapers, Wevurski is also in charge of two additional publications of the Salinas Californian, the Off 68 and El Sol. He runs the four papers’ websites.

According to the Visalia Times-Delta, Wevurski said, “I’m looking forward to getting to know the people of Tulare County and learn what’s important to them and how our coverages can help them.” Wevurski is from New Jersey and has never lived nor spent any significant time in the Central Valley prior to Gannett’s placing him within our midst. This begs the question – how can you run a local paper when you aren’t a local?

The VTD doesn’t just share its editor with the Californian, but also its publisher. Paula Goudreau is the president and publisher of the Salinas Californian and now does double duty as the president and publisher for the VTD. According to public records, Goudreau lives out of the area and only spends a few days a month in Visalia. She has little experience in the publishing world, as her background is in cable and advertising. After a 20-year marketing career with Comcast she started working for Gannett in 2011 as the general manager of the Salinas Californian. As of August 2013, she doubles as president and publisher of the VTD.

The VTD has been slowly losing local control over its own coverage because it is owned by publishing behemoth, Gannett. The publishing company owns both the VTD and Californian along with USA Today, the Des Moines Register, the Louisville Courier-Journal, and the Arizona Republic. The company owns many other papers, radio and television stations. This explains why, on opening up the VTD to the editorial page on Saturday, February 28, there were no local letters to the editor. There was, though, a quarter-page editorial from the Arizona Republic.

It’s been awhile since the VTD has had an on-site editor or publisher. The last time the VTD had a fulltime executive editor was Diane Hayes in the summer of 2014.  Hayes was recruited from the Post-Tribune in the Chicago area and relocated to Visalia for her new job. She barely made it through the year before resigning or getting fired. I asked Hayes which it was and she replied, “I don’t really care to revisit the VTD drama, or even the long, sad decline of newspapers in general.” Watching your newspaper being slowly dismantled by corporate bean counters has got to be stressful. Hayes is currently the Sequoia Riverland Trust development director.

Amy Pack was VTD’s last fulltime on-site publisher. Interestingly, for the last seven years with VTD she was also president and publisher of the Salinas Californian. She managed to be both without boring her readers with the local stories about Salinas.

So why can’t the VTD have its own editor and publisher like the smaller and seemingly successful Hanford Sentinel? According to the Monterey Herald, it’s all part of Gannett’s ‘newsroom of the future’ initiative. That initiative not only merged the editor and publisher positions of both papers, but forced all of VTD employees and Salinas Californian employees to reapply for their jobs with no guarantee of being hired back.

According to a Visalia Times-Delta reporter who survived the “reapplication process,” Melinda Morales, a long-time writer and assistant editor, did not get hired back. Morales was one of the few locals left at the paper in any position of authority. With her gone, James Ward of Choices has taken over some of her responsibilities. The VTD reporter said that during the reapplication process, Gannett wasn’t interested in the applicant’s journalistic or writing experience, but more how you could expand the paper’s on-line presence.

The Monterey Herald, which is owned by a different publishing company, said of Gannett, “It is just better to say you’re building the ‘newsroom of the future’ rather than decimating the newsroom of the present. Next to go, of course, will be the newsroom types who haven’t adapted so well to spreading their journalism via Twitter and Facebook or, put another way, the older folks.”

As for Morales, her departure may have been because her qualifications did not neatly fit into Gannett’s ‘newsroom of the future’ initiative, which, according to an internal document, is described as:

“Under the ‘Newsroom of the Future,’ there are 16 job descriptions. Each newsroom employee at each Gannett property must be in one of these positions. They are all digital-centric and aligned with Gannett’s new “Picasso” initiative, in which journalism is driven solely by metrics and journalists are expected to be marketers and ‘community connectors.’

Another euphemism being bandied about by Gannett is “streamlining the process.” This magical phrase has led to layoffs at other Gannett newspapers in other regions.

At the media blog Jimromenesko.com, a former Gannett Wisconsin employee, Logan Carlson, wrote in regarding the “newsroom of the future” shakeup at the company’s Wisconsin properties:

“For the last month the 10 daily newspapers in Wisconsin that Gannett owns have been going through the restructuring process. When we first began hearing rumors of NOTF, we all knew it was essentially company spin for reducing the newsroom positions while making it sound like that wasn’t going to be the case. All told, I believe the company goal was to reduce payroll by 15 percent,” the former staffer wrote.

For years, while Amy Pack was the publisher of both papers, Visalia’s copy edit desk proofread all of the Salinas Californian’s articles before publication. According to the Monterey Herald, three copy edit desk positions are going to be eliminated in Visalia–which is virtually all of them. Wevurski said that, on top of all his other responsibilities, daily editing will mostly fall to him and another Salinas-based editor.

Gannett’s headquarters are in McLean, Virginia, while its production center is located in Phoenix, Arizona–where the VTD content is sent every night; the VTD’s editor and publisher both live out of the area. Welcome to the modern age of local reporting!

It’s a new world in the newspaper publishing industry, and Gannett’s “newsroom of the future” leaves Visalia readers with more unknowns than knowns. But the revelation that neither the editor nor publisher is from Tulare County does answer one gnawing question — why the Visalia Times-Delta still thinks that Connie Conway is our assembly member in Sacramento.

2 thoughts on “Visalia Times-Delta Struggles to Keep Autonomy

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  1. Great article. Another thing that has changed is that the VTD and Tulare-Advance Register are designed and paginated in Arizona. The so-call “local” editor and publisher, or any of the VTD’s shrunken staff, have no input regarding the selection of wire copy. Local editors used to select national and international stories based on their knowledge of the community and what might be of interest to readers here — agriculture stories, for example.
    But I guess editors in Arizona know more about what we, who live here, are interested in.

  2. A lot of good people have been — and continue to be — chewed up and spit out by the dysfunctional, cancerous machine Gannett has allowed the T-D to become. Folks in Tulare County deserve better. A local daily MUST care about the community it covers — and encourage and support its news-gathering team. Emphasizing digital platforms and worrying about metrics are a smoke screen. Teamwork, accuracy and positive morale are what make newspapers work and these ideals have got to be emphasized in building any newsroom of the future. Community journalism, while far from lucrative, is still very important and necessary in our 21st century world. Ten years ago, in another company-wide initiative, Gannett rechristened its newsrooms ‘local information centers.’ With regard to the T-D’s orientation then, the moniker could not have been further from the truth. Keep up the good work there Catherine (and Joseph)!

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