St. Louis Post-Dispatch Facing More Departures

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PHOTO COURTESY OF FLICKR/PAUL SABLEMAN
Four experienced writers and editors have given their notice at the Post-Dispatch in just a few weeks' time.

Stephen Deere, who covers the St. Louis County beat for the daily, has accepted a job as the City Hall reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, while Blues writer Jeremy Rutherford is heading to an online publication. Matt Franck, the paper's well-respected deputy metro editor, and longstanding TV critic Gail Pennington have also given notice.

The jobs affect different desks and coverage areas. But the one thing the four have in common is longevity — and institutional knowledge. Rutherford has covered the Blues for twelve years, while Deere has been on the news desk for eleven. As for Pennington, she's been with the paper since 1974, and on her current beat for several decades.

And the departures come just four months after a previous spate, when three equally high-profile bylines said goodbye. (That included City Hall reporter Koran Addo, data journalist Walker Moskop, and perennial award winner Nancy Cambria.) And those farewells followed buyouts in February that saw six senior reporters and editors leave.

The current departures have all come by choice, says Doug Moore, secretary of the executive board of the United Media Guild. Franck got a job at the NGA, and Rutherford tired of life on the road and missed his young children.

As for Deere, who's lately scored some big scoops in St. Louis County, he says he didn't even seek out the Atlanta job — the paper called him after being referred by a former colleague. And with his kids now three and five years old, it felt like "now or never" in terms of leaving St. Louis. "It was an offer too good to pass up," he says.

If any departure feels a bit less than celebratory, it's Pennington's. In a chat with readers on her @TubeTalk Facebook page yesterday, readers lamented her departure — and she seemed to allude to some tension with her soon-to-be-former employer.

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Despite some conjecture online, Post-Dispatch spokeswoman Tracy Rouch confirms that no buyout was involved. (She declined further comment.)

Colleagues, however, say Pennington had been told she needed to start working two shifts each week on the copy desk in addition to her TV critic's duties. She chose to give notice rather than take on the extra work. (Pennington declined comment.) The demand has apparently become a common "ask" for the features desk, with other colleagues taking shifts that were previously handled by full-time copy editors.

But after some serious attrition, new hires may finally be coming to the paper — though you won't see them on the copy desk, or in certain roles.

Jim Thomas, who previously covered the Rams, has already been given the Blues' beat, which neatly solves two problems for the daily. Moore, of the Guild, says that while the paper will likely promote from within as it replaces Deere and Franck, it will ultimately add staffers to carry the workload.

But Pennington's job will likely go unfilled, Moore says.

"The paper has been fortunate to have a full-time TV critic," he says. "It's a luxury that we were really proud we had, and she did a good job of it. But these specialty beats are going away. People are going to have to rely on the wire services and the Internet to find that coverage."

Of Pennington, he says, "She's a talented person. You hate to see that institutional knowledge walk out the door."

Update:

One more Post-Dispatch staffer recently gave notice. Laura Black, who's been with the paper since 2005, was a member of the "presentation team" (or, as we used to call it, the layout desk). She is going to an architectural firm.

Also, P-D staffers tell us there is one piece of good news to report: Janelle O'Dea of the Bradenton Herald has accepted a job as the paper's data reporter, replacing Walker Moskop. She'll be starting on September 25.

We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at sarah.fenske@riverfronttimes.com



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