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Winners & Losers at NancyWorld: A big shakeup is underway at the Houston Chronicle

Nancy Barnes new editor in chief at Houston Chronicle head shot September 2013 VERTICAL
Nancy Barnes Nancy Barnes/Twitter
Houston Chronicle headquarters, back side of building
Houston Chronice headquarters in downtown Houston (2009 photo). Wikimedia

Since new Houston Chronicle editor Nancy Barnes revealed her plans for the newspaper at a November luncheon, things have been unusually quiet on Texas Avenue. But it looks like, with the new year, she is coming out with, to use a Texas cliché, guns blazing.

In a long email to the newspaper's staff, Barnes affirmed what she told a group of Houston power brokers back before Thanksgiving: She plans to emphasize local news in a big way, including more coverage of Houston's suburbs. Early winners in NancyWorld appear to be the news and business departments while features, sports, editorial and photography look like the equivalent of the forgotten stepchild.

 "Wide swaths of our region are uncovered, and we will not survive as a trusted, vibrant news organization if this continues," Barnes wrote. 

Barnes is putting into place a massive reorganization of the newsroom to emphasize enterprise reporting and editing. "Wide swaths of our region are uncovered, and we will not survive as a trusted, vibrant news organization if this continues," she wrote.

While Barnes paid lip service to sports, arts and entertainment, and food coverage, her heart is in hard news. Starting next week, she wrote, she is "eliminating some positions in order to create more hard news reporting slots." She added a long list of areas she plans to emphasize, although it's not clear how many new reporters she plans to hire and how many current staffers will be moved to new reporting positions.

Every one whose position is affected will be offered a different role. A list of some of the positions we expect to fill follows this note. Because we already have so many openings, I expect this work of assigning staff members to new roles and beats will continue for several months."

Among the jobs she hopes to fill are:

  • Sunday and Enterprise reporter:  This will not be filled immediately
  • City Hall reporter : To join current city hall reporter Mike Morris and provide time to do more watchdog/enterprise work on the city
  • Sunday General Assignment/Enterprise writer
  • Day Cops/All hands
  • Immigration/General assignment
  • Religion/Nonprofits/General assignment
  • Austin (two positions open)
  • Suburban education
  • Katy
  • Sugar Land
  • Woodlands
  • Federal beat (including Federal courts)
  • Port  (Maybe)
  • Business of health care
  • Banking & Finance
  • Non-Energy Fortune 500s
  • Politics Now: Focusing on immediate political news and analysis for the week

Barnes also announced the Sunday Style glossy will be converted into a home design and travel section called Escapes in February and that a reporting position in the newsroom has been added at the expense of a photographer position.

Barnes acknowledged that "not everyone will be happy with these changes" but insists they are key to the newspaper's long-term viability.

What I heard so clearly from all of you is that we are overlooking major coverage areas, and missing key areas of accountability journalism.  Before very long, you will see a healthier, more robust news report and more in-depth reporting from across the newsroom. Meanwhile, I continue to believe that it is a tremendous privilege and responsibility to do this work; our communities need us."

Expect more changes after new managing editor Vernon Loeb arrives next Wednesday. Loeb left the Washington Post, where he was Metro editor, to take the job in Houston.

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