December 7, 2009

New editor at Advance's Oregonian

Editor Sandy Rowe told The Oregonian staff today that she's stepping down after 16 years, 5 Pulitzer prizes and, as one reporter said "a pretty damn good run journalistically."  She told staff members she made the decision over Thanksgiving weekend, while wrestling with the 2010 budget.

"Doing this preserves other jobs," she told staff. (The Oregonian had warned that at least 70 buyouts were necessary to prevent layoffs. One published list shows not enough signed up.)

Executive editor Peter Bhatia will replace her, effective Jan. 1.

You can read the memo announcing her resignation and Bhatia's promotion on the, the online home for the Advance Publications newspaper.

Here's what some others are saying:

Here's a copy of the emails sent to staff by Sandy and Chris:
I today announced I am retiring as editor of The Oregonian. This was a tremendously difficult decision but I am confident it is sound. You deserve to know why.
When we first announced the buyout and possibility of subsequent layoffs, many of you wanted to know staffing targets, how and when we would decide about layoffs and what departments would be most affected. Reasonable questions, all. I responded we would not know the staffing target until we had a new publisher and a final budget and we wouldn't start planning layoffs until the buyout was completely closed. I also said we would protect more content-producing jobs by reducing the number of editors. I did not realize at the time that statement would drive my own decision.
Led by Chris (Anderson, publisher), in early November we went back into the budgets, determined to ensure the company's profitability in 2010, the essential ingredient to retain jobs and turn our focus from cutting to building.  At that point it became clear we would have to shed about 70 jobs total from the newsroom staff.  As we have gotten much smaller as a newsroom, it is also clear we have too many editing positions concentrated at the top of the organization. 
Over Thanksgiving I wrestled with the number of layoffs we would need and determined it was best to start by removing my own salary from the budget. I informed Chris of my decision last week. Doing this preserves other jobs.
The biggest single timing consideration for me is my conviction that we are indeed right on the brink of having both financial soundness and great opportunity for the future. That is the good news. The economy is starting to turn and Chris and his leadership team are putting all the pieces in place to take full advantage of our strong market position and growing online opportunity. It won't be easy, but by this time next year, I predict this company will be in a modest growth position.
In News, I have no doubt you have the leadership within yourselves and in this room to meet the future with vigor and commitment. I am very proud of that. The superb work you have done and the public service we provide through our journalism has never been attributable to the editor or a small handful of people. It is from all of you. Yes, we are smaller than we have been and many talented colleagues have left, but look around you at the talent still here, ranging from veteran Pulitzer Prize winners to young super-talented digitally savvy journalists.
You will not lose the passion that drives you and in that, too, I take great pride. What you do is worthy, often inspired, and has never been more needed than it is today. Amid the noise of the media marketplace, more than ever the fight is to be the trusted source of local news and information. That is what you do so well, and you will win that fight -- on any platform the market chooses.
I will miss you a great deal, but that is overshadowed by the gratitude I feel for the good fortune of having worked with you and every day having fun, laughing, struggling and, ultimately achieving tremendous things together.
I cheer you and wish you Godspeed on these important next steps in the journey.

Dear colleagues,

Today we are making a very important announcement about the transition of leadership in our newsroom.  Sandy Rowe is retiring effective December 31.  Peter Bhatia, our executive editor, will become editor of The Oregonian on January 1.

Attached is a news release that will be posted on this afternoon.

This was a difficult decision for Sandy, but it is one she felt good about making — and which she made in the best interests of our company.  I support Sandy’s decision.  I know you will join me in recognizing her enormous contributions to the company and to our community.  Thankfully, she will continue to contribute to Portland, to Oregon and to the national and international journalism community.

I’m also pleased to announce Peter’s promotion.  This is the best of both worlds — continuity in the newsroom while bringing the inevitable different perspective that comes with a change in leadership.  Please join me in congratulating Peter as well.


And the official announcement from

Sandra Mims Rowe, editor of The Oregonian since 1993, announced Monday she will leave the newspaper at the end of the year.

Rowe, 61, said she came to her decision over the Thanksgiving holiday as she contemplated planned staff cuts necessitated by difficult economic times. "It feels like it is the right decision," Rowe said. "We have a slimmer organization. We need fewer people overseeing it."

N. Christian Anderson, recently named publisher of The Oregonian, saluted Rowe's contributions to the paper and the state. "Her strong leadership changed the face of The Oregonian, leading us to new levels of journalism and service to the region," Anderson said.

Anderson named Peter Bhatia, long-time Oregonian managing and executive editor, to replace Rowe at the helm of the newsroom. "Peter Bhatia will carry on strong leadership and commitment to outstanding journalism," Anderson said. "His passion for and knowledge of Oregon and the metropolitan area are important qualities that will serve Oregonian readers well in the future."

Before 1993, The Oregonian had won two Pulitzer Prizes in its long history. It won five under Rowe's tenure.

"Sandy is certainly a giant in our business, someone who has tremendous respect from the other editors around the nation," said David Boardman, executive editor of The Seattle Times. "She's shown a great gift for hiring top talent. And she was able to muster resources that the rest of us were in awe of."

The Oregonian newsroom swelled in size under Rowe, growing from about 280 when she began to more than 400 at the peak. Under her watch, Oregonian journalists followed eastern Washington potatoes to Asia to illustrate the globalized economy; they hectored state leaders to shut down a decrepit mental hospital, they reconstructed the tragic ordeal of a family stuck in a remote, snowbound corner of southwestern Oregon; and they told the story of a high school boy coping with extreme challenges.

All of those efforts won Pulitzer prizes. A 2000 series on abuses within the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service won the Pulitzer for public service, journalism's most prestigious prize.

"She's the most inspirational editor I've ever met," said Amanda Bennett, who was hired by Rowe as a managing editor and is now executive editor in charge of enterprise stories at Bloomberg News. "She stood behind the newsroom when there were all kinds of complicated, investigative things we were working on."

"She transformed that paper from a good paper to probably the best paper of its size in the country," said Rich Oppel, former editor of the Austin American-Statesman in Austin, Texas.

Advance Publications, owner of The Oregonian, hired Rowe away from the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., of which she had been named editor at age 31.

"When Sandy came to The Oregonian, many who knew her said we were getting the best newspaper editor in the country," said Advance Publications President Donald E. Newhouse. "Time has proven those admirers to be clairvoyant." 

"Sandy has succeeded on so many fronts," Newhouse said. "As a community spirited journalist, as an innovator, as a brilliant story editor capable of shaping ideas and content into successful packages, and as a constant advocate for quality no matter what the resources at her disposal."

More than the prizes and trophies, Rowe said she's proudest of the staff she's built. She figures she has hired well more than half the current news staff.

"It is the most lasting contribution I could have made to this newspaper and this community I love," she said.

For all its success, The Oregonian has been beset by the same double-barreled dilemma facing nearly every daily newspaper in the country – declining circulation and revenue, the latter made worse by the economic downturn. The paper has downsized, cut salaries and benefits. After a series of buyouts and an expected layoff early next year, the newsroom staff will shrink to pre-1993 levels.

Rowe will be the second senior executive to leave The Oregonian in 2009, following long-time Publisher Fred Stickel, who retired last month.

Rowe said she's confident that under Anderson's and Bhatia's leadership, the Oregonian will weather the storm and continue to fill its vital role.

"Even after deep newsroom cuts dictated by the brutal financial conditions of the recession, The Oregonian has a news staff of more than 200, substantially larger than any in the state," Rowe said. "I am increasingly proud of our public service and accountability journalism even with that smaller staff. The market really depends on The Oregonian to do those kinds of stories, whether it concerns the police, politics, public policy or business."

While at The Oregonian, she served as president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors and chair of the Pulitzer Prize Board. She and Bhatia together were named editors of the year by Editor & Publisher magazine in 2008.

Bhatia said he is "thrilled and humbled" to be succeeding Rowe.

"Sandy created an environment here for all of us to do our best work," Bhatia said. "Her legacy here is about journalistic excellence, about telling stories in the best way possible, about getting to the bottom of wrongdoing and malfeasance by public officials and others, and of being the eyes and ears of the public, and caring first about that public."

Rowe and her husband, Gerard Rowe, will remain in Portland. She said she will retire from The Oregonian but hopes to get involved in education, leadership and other capacities "that could contribute to the economic and educational vibrancy of this great state."

-- Jeff Manning


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