The Official Memo from Jeff Cohen on the Houston Chronicle Layoffs

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Here’s the official memo from editor Jeff Cohen on how the Houston Chronicle will be even bigger and better now that it’s gotten rid of all those pesky reporters and editors:

Newsroom restructuring

I believe that journalism is a public service. But, also, it is a business. And as a business, this newspaper is not immune from market forces in a media world that has exploded with new voices and commercial options.

Market forces require the Chronicle to operate with reduced costs. All of you received this month's memo from the publisher framing a downsizing. To achieve that, this week we begin to roll out a restructuring in the newsroom. This process has neither been easy or undertaken lightly.

We will go forward with fewer journalists and support staff. We need to thank those who are leaving. They have played a role in building the Houston Chronicle into a strong regional newspaper and superb Web site. Our reporting today is more aggressive, our writing is more engaging and our newspaper is more visually alluring because of them and you.

How are we going to do all these things with less staff? It is a logical question in light of the sheer volume of material we publish each day in print and online.

Remember, we will continue to have the largest news operation on the Gulf Coast and probably twice as many journalists as all other Houston news media outlets combined. Remember also that our competitors today operate with lean, agile staffs. Competition, as we all know, comes from every direction - to see it you only have to walk by the racks of free publications on the street corner or do a Google search on any topic that we cover. We, however, will remain bigger, more talented and more creative than all comers.

Our reorganization will require a short period of adjustment to new ways of operating and new assignments. Some of the changes are addressed below; others will be announced in the coming days and weeks. John Wilburn and I also will try to attend department meetings in November.

For now, please be aware of these new assignments:

City/State Desk: The state operation merges with the City Desk and State Editor Laura Tolley reports to Metro Editor Tony Freemantle. Alan Bernstein becomes the local political writer. Terri Langford becomes the social services reporter.

Foreign/National: The Foreign and National staffs combine into one department under the leadership of Chris Shively.

Sports: Carlton Thompson is promoted to Sports Editor.

Business: Mark Babineck moves to the business desk as an assistant business editor leading a team of reporters and running the department's online efforts.

With all of this change, our strategy remains the same:

Focus on scoops and enterprise in the master narratives that drive our community;

Think Web first every day with 24/7 breaking news;

Expand our multimedia content with video and online database initiatives;

Develop topical Web channels that extend the reach of our Web site beyond news;

Aggressively engage our readers with interactive journalism and community Web sites;

Improve community coverage in our Spanish language publications in paper and online;

Develop niche publications, as we have done with Gloss and Health, in areas with potential for building new audiences.

This is the most interesting time I can remember in 30 years of working as a journalist. I certainly wish that the enterprise did not require rigid cost control in order to stay competitive. But, in the end, I still believe that journalism is a public service, that the commerce of ideas will prevail in the marketplace and that our work will make an indelible impression on the greater Houston area and Texas.

-- Richard Connelly

UPDATE: The names continue to roll in: Gregory Katz of the European bureau, Polly Ross Hughes of the Austin bureau, art critic Patricia Johnson, and almost 30-year-vet photographer Carlos Antonio Rios.

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