New Houston Chronicle editor Nancy Barnes hopes to boost newsroom

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Last week, CultureMap’s Clifford Pugh provided some nice coverage of the Houston Chronicle‘s new editor, Nancy Barnes, who was the guest of a group of female Houston leaders.

Barnes is the first female to head the Hearst Houston newspaper, but comes to the job from outside the Hearst ranks.

Barnes critical of “swath” of beats going uncovered

The old clich√© about actions speaking louder than words applies, but Barnes is saying the right things when it comes to boosting the newspaper’s core product (news!), which has withered over the last decade. From CultureMap:

Whether she can hire more staff, she said, depends on how much money she can “wring out” of Hearst, but it sure sounds like she is going to try.

“I don’t think we have enough reporters on the ground, in particular in the area of business and local coverage and enterprise areas. At the moment, there’s nobody covering religion, there’s nobody covering the business of health care, there’s nobody covering immigration questions. There’s a whole swath of things that aren’t being covered. That goes back to what happened in 2008-2009. My job is to prioritize and figure how to get that covered. Do I use existing resources? Maybe. Do I get some money for it? I’ll be asking.

“A huge part of our readership is in the suburbs, which we don’t cover at all. We don’t cover any of the suburban school districts. That has to be something that gets added to the equation. More reporters on the ground covering news and business in particular is going to be part of the solution here. I don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like. It depends on how big of a check I get.”

We wish Barnes well in her quest to get “more reporters on the ground covering news.”

Awkward: Editor who oversaw newsroom cuts still roaming the building

However, there are a couple of organizational aspects of her early tenure that are interesting. The first is the abrupt departure of former managing editor Steve Proctor, who came to the newspaper a little over a year ago and seemed to think he was going to have a remit to improve the news product (at least according to a few journalists I’ve spoken to). It’s not clear what Barnes intends to do with the managing editor position, but apparently she or several people thought a change was in order.

The second, and far more interesting, aspect of her early tenure is that even as Barnes is going around talking about shoring up the newsroom and lamenting that important beats go entirely uncovered, the person who oversaw so many of the cuts to the newsroom over the years, diminutive former editor Jeff Cohen, still roams the halls at 801 Texas Avenue. As demonstrated by his place to the far right on the mighty Houston Chronicle masthead (below), Cohen enjoys the title “Executive VP / Executive Editor, Editorial Pages.” He moved to the editorial pages a little over a year ago.

ChronMastheadSmall20131118

The name of the new editor-in-chief, Nancy Barnes, is not listed among the members of the current editorial board on chron.com (which could just be an oversight for a newspaper that can’t seem to decide what it wants to do online). Yet she’s visiting Houston leaders, and lamenting the state of affairs partly created by the Executive VP who now oversees the newspaper’s editorial voice. That’s bizarre (and a touch awkward).

Kevin Whited
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Kevin Whited is co-founder and publisher of blogHOUSTON. Follow him on twitter: @PubliusTX