The Houston Chronicle, in the midst of a 5-6 percent cutback, is reshuffling its opinion section after Opinion Director James Gibbons decided to take the paper's buyout offer.
Taking his place will be John Wilburn, the newspaper's managing editor.
Meanwhile, the Chron's reader representative, Steve Jetton, has been named Outlook Editor, replacing James Langworthy, who remains on the staff as an editorial writer, while Assistant Managing Editor Jim Newkirk will take Jetton's spot as the reader rep.
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We're not sure what's up with Julie Mason, who's been writing the "Inside the Beltway" blog for the Chron's Washington, D.C. bureau, but she announced the blog is kaput in her final post on Friday. (We asked but she said she couldn't say.)
Anyhow, for those of you who just can't get enough of the inside baseball going on at 801 Texas Ave., here's the full memo sent out by Executive Vice President & Editor Jeff Cohen:
This is an exceptionally important time for newspaper opinion pages to engage their audiences in discussion and debate. There's a hurly, burly election on the horizon. The sun has risen on a financial crisis unanticipated and aided by lax elected officials. And, in the wake of Ike in Houston, watchdogs are needed to growl at efforts to rebuild Galveston and infrastructure in the surrounding areas.
On that stage, it gives me great pleasure to announce that John Wilburn will now oversee the Chronicle's opinion operation while working to implement an equally engaging space in the interactive environment of chron.com.
Our new Opinion Director assumes this role immediately and will report to Jack Sweeney and me.
He replaces James Gibbons who elected to participate in the current buyout program. The last day of James' 30-year-plus Chronicle career was Wednesday. Mr. Gibbons was known for the courtesy he extended to colleagues and was a passionate advocate for and a clear writer about many of this newspaper's core beliefs. We wish him well.
In other changes in the department:
· Steve Jetton becomes Outlook Editor reporting to John Wilburn. This is a natural transition for Steve who has spent more than a year as our Reader Representative. No one in the newsroom has had a more intimate dialogue with our readers, and he'll be in a position to funnel their ideas into print.
· Jim Newkirk becomes Reader Representative, adding those responsibilities to his current job as our budget czar, contest coordinator and liaison to high schools. He will report to me.
· David Langworthy will write editorials.
The mission for John and his team remains to intelligently evaluate issues of public concern, to explain them and, after evaluating all sides, to help set an agenda for the community. Our writers should be passionate, clear and firm both in unsigned editorials and on the op-ed pages. The change these days is that the institution is no longer the sole gatekeeper. Our goal is to outsource some of the idea exchange to those on the other side of the gate.
John is perfect for the mission because of his breadth of experience. He's worked for publications like the Houston Press which has a strong point of view. He's worked in television for deep thinkers like David Frost. He's run Web operations. As our managing editor, he's been instrumental in executing coverage of huge stories starting with one storm -- Enron -- and working through another -- Ike. All the while, he has been a catalyst for smart story telling and the editor charged with polishing our writing.
One of my obligations right now is to re-engineer the newsroom. I'll do this by creating a flatter organization that increases the responsibilities of our current senior editors. More on that by the end of the month. For now, please join me in wishing John good luck in the new position and in thanking James for his service.
-- Steve Olafson