That all ended this afternoon, when we received word that the Post's editorial page editor, Christine Bertelson, is stepping down from the job she has held for the past ten years. Or, more accurately, stepping over: Bertelson is to replace recently departed Susan Hegger as the Post's assistant managing editor for features.
Those who fancy reading tea leaves and who wonder whether Bertelson's departure from the editorial page signals, at long last, the paper's anticipated shift to the right following its acquisition by Lee Enterprises in 2005 can parse what Bertelson had to say when I interrupted her at work late this afternoon.
Bertelson -- the first woman to hold the position of editorial page editor at the P-D -- says she'd been taken aback when a former colleague called to congratulate her on her tenth anniversary as editorial page editor. But then, she says, she got to thinking that perhaps it was time for a new challenge.
"Ten years is a long time to do anything, especially something as contentious as being an editorial page editor in such a polarizing country," says Bertelson, noting that "seven years of George Bush seems like seventy. Then this feature thing came up and I thought it would be a gas. I think it's gonna be so much fun -- so much variety, such a change of pace."
She says she has immensely enjoyed her time on the editorial page and is especially proud of the staff she assembled and the work they accomplished, and cites in particular stories about Medicaid and about the troubled state of the St. Louis Public Schools. (Unlike most editorial pages, under Bertelson the Post's writers on several occasions published stories that relied on original reporting, rather than solely commentary.)
"I was able to put together a team of smart, hard-working, quirky personalities," says Bertelson. They knew how to write, they cared about what they were doing. It is an extremely hand-built, hard-working section of the paper. I'm hoping this is going to continue. This is a really strong team. That I will really miss."
And what of the long-rumored shift toward conservative political views?
"I'm sure people are speculating about what this means about Lee," Bertelson acknowledges but says she isn't anticipating any drastic "course corrections" in the direction of the editorial page. "I think it will continue pretty much as is. [My] replacement? Not a clue. A wide-open question. They haven't posted the job yet.
"I hope I'll be part of the decision-making process," she adds.
Meantime, Bertelson says, she's just looking forward to the transition from the often-abstract realm of editorial writing to the here-and-nowness of features: "Popular culture -- that's the world where I live."
Roughly coincident with Bertelson's move, the Post will, among other changes, fold its Monday health section (Healthy & Fit) and its Wednesday food section (Let's Eat) into the Everyday section. On Thursday the paper's calendar of events (Get Out) will absorb the Everyday feature into its tabloid format.
As promised, pertinent memos are reproduced on the jump.
FROM ARNIE ROBBINS: There have been a number of rumors about changes we are making - a few even have been correct.
We have been reluctant to put much into writing because this has been an evolving process, because we wanted to share information with the staff members directly affected and because we wanted readers to hear about changes from us, in our news pages, when we were ready.
--NewsWatch is staying. Now that Ron Wade started as Sunday editor, we will put every effort into reinvigorating it and improving it, and making it a must-read section for analysis, insightful writing, local, national and international issues, and, gasp, even fun from time to time.
--We are NOT redesigning the newspaper. That was a leap, reported by a competitor, but never was in our plans.
--We are beefing up our business coverage. Look for additional packages and coverage two or three days a week, beginning in late May. Look also for a far stronger online component to our business coverage--with additional content online. We know business news, especially local, is very important for many of our readers and we want to deliver.
--And, yes, we will be making some significant changes to our Everyday section. In effect, we will merge our daily Everyday section with the (almost) daily themed sections we produce. The sections will carry the name of the specialty section (Healthy & Fit, for example) and the Everyday name in smaller type above it.
Some background: From 1996 on, we developed Get Out, Saturday LifeStyle, Let's Eat, Healthy & Fit, Sunday A&E, and Explore--to run along with the daily Everyday section.
We are proud of these sections and the work that goes into producing them. At the same time, we believe that the more targeted our features sections are, the better they are. And, quite frankly, it has gotten to be more and more difficult to produce these sections with a smaller staff and fewer resources over the years.
And, of course, times have changed. The print world is struggling, the online world is growing, just not quickly enough to make up for the loss of advertising revenue. Combining these sections--along with some tightening of daily newshole in our daily sections--saves us considerable newsprint and helps us control costs so we can reinvest in areas such as Business coverage. Yes, it's a difficult economic climate for newspapers. But we were one of only a handful of newspapers around the country this week to report daily circulation gains. And while advertising revenue is not growing the way we would like, we have not come even close to resorting to some of the cuts our colleagues in the industry have recently announced and that I am sure you have read about on Romenesco.
Here's an example of how it will work: In Monday's Healthy & Fit section the last 4-5 pages will include the syndicated features of the daily Everyday section--horoscopes, advice columns, puzzles, the daily TV grid, and two pages of comics. The Monday Healthy & Fit section will grow by those 4-5 pages, anchored toward the back of the section. On other days of the week the puzzles, comics, TV grid, advice columns and horoscopes will appear in the back of the appropriate features sections.
We will begin telling readers about the changes on A2 on Sunday, May 6 with a Monday, May 14 launch of a revamped Healthy & Fit section.
These were not easy decisions. But, as we talked about during our online sessions a couple of weeks ago, we must more than ever and more quickly than ever make changes looking to the future.
If you have questions or comments please holler.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ FROM PAM MAPLES AND ARNIE ROBBINS: Susan Hegger has decided to retire and move into a new phase of her professional life. So it is with mixed emotions all around that we announce she will be leaving her position as Assistant Managing Editor for Features the middle of next month.
Susan, a 20-year veteran of the Post-Dispatch, has been assistant managing editor for features since 2001. During her tenure, she has been instrumental in creating and sustaining our popular Healthy & Fit and Let's Eat sections. Let's Eat won a prestigious James Beard award in 2003.
Before becoming AME for features, Susan was arts and entertainment editor and a long-time editorial writer, commenting on a wide range of topics from the St. Louis riverfront to peace (or the lack of it) in the Middle East. Susan also served two temporary stints on the paper's Washington bureau, was the paper's restaurant critic for a time and has regularly written for the travel section.
"I have loved working in features," Susan said, "because I've been lucky to work with the best, most talented people I know. That's what I'll miss the most."
Susan will pursue two of her passions -- travel and freelance writing. Fortunately, she's agreed to do some freelance writing for us, so her byline will continue to grace our pages for at least a while, perhaps longer.
Susan's last day in the office will be sometime in mid-May. Until then, she'll be helping us as we finalize some changes in our features content. (We'll share details of those plans with you as soon as we can).
Please join us in wishing Susan all the best in her new endeavors.
We'll be posting information soon on a party in Susan's honor.
-- Pam Maples and Arnie Robbins
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ FROM PAM MAPLES: We are seeking an experienced, creative and energetic editor to lead our features coverage. We need someone who is skilled at working with reporters, editors and members of our visual teams to produce smart, sophisticated stories with a strong local voice.
This assistant managing editor will play a crucial leadership role in our efforts to integrate digital storytelling into our features departments.
This editor will be expected to instill a culture of collaboration among feature sections and help them foster strong working relationships with other newsroom departments.
Successful candidates also must be willing to maintain communication with counterparts in other divisions, including circulation, advertising and marketing, and make sure they are aware of new initiatives and special projects being considered in features.
This editor will help us finalize changes in our features sections, as well as determine how to best organize the features teams to meet these changes.
The AME for features will oversee and manage various administrative and planning functions, including budget, spending and staff development/training.
QUALIFICATIONS: Candidates must have substantial supervisory experience, excellent communication skills and have demonstrated an ability to work with staff members to identify goals and expectations and to give regular feedback on their progress.
HOW TO APPLY: Please submit a resume and a letter explaining why you'd be a strong candidate to Cynthia Todd, director of newsroom recruitment, by Monday, May 7. Also, please be prepared to discuss and critique the strengths and weaknesses of our features coverage.
-- Pam Maples