Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Shoptalk: Right Hand Cut Off?

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Shoptalk: Right Hand Cut Off?

Article excerpt

South Florida Sun-Sentinel Editor Earl Maucker knew that Sharon Rosenhause always had his back. That was never more important than in the past year -- easily the most turbulent in the history of the Tribune Co. daily -- as Maucker, the current president of the Inter American Press Association, frequently left the newsroom on trips to Latin America. "The thing about Sharon was that being a managing editor was not just a job, it was her career, it was her life," he says. Maucker could remain confident that the newsroom was in very good hands during his absences.

But when Rosenhause decided to retire in August, Maucker permanently eliminated the managing editor position -- and added the Sun-Sentinel to the growing ranks of newspapers that are jettisoning the M.E. slot.

The Sun-Sentinel's decision is emblematic, too, of why managing editors are disappearing at newspapers around the country. The Sun-Sentinel job was eliminated for a number of reasons: the convenient attrition factor, big salary savings, a desire to "flatten" the newsroom leadership structure, and a belief that senior management should feel the pain of staff reductions, too.

Newspapers, though, are hardly making a clean break with their newsroom No. 2. Scott Bosley, executive director of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, sums it up pretty well when he says: "Some of it is permanent [elimination], and some of it is, 'Well, let's just hold on and see what happens.'" But shedding management layers, at least for the moment, is an inevitable response to the industry's current crisis, he adds: "With less staff, you need fewer managers, right?"

In some ways the wonder is that the M.E. position has hung around so long. In the rest of corporate America, the middle manager has been an endangered species for the better part of three decades.

Yet newsroom management took a completely different direction during its boom years, creating entire new classes of middle managers. "Assistant," "deputy," and "associate" managing editor titles proliferated. Even now, the Chicago Tribune -- which, no matter what Sam Zell thinks, ran a lean newsroom for a paper of its size -- lists 13 variations on the A.M.E. title in E&P's International Year Book.

Many editors continue to believe that a good M.E. is indispensible -- not a luxury. "Every top editor needs a colleague to confide in, to work with, to be there when you're not there -- to keep the trains running on time," says David Ledford, executive editor of The News Journal in Wilmington, Del. …

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