Friday, February 14, 2014

Tennessean Hires New VP To Run News Operation

Posted By on Fri, Feb 14, 2014 at 10:38 AM

The Tennessean dumped their editor yesterday.

That's a fair reading of the news that Stefanie Murray, 33, was named vice president for content and engagement at 1100 Broadway on Thursday. Maria De Varenne is still "news director and executive editor," but she has a new boss who has final say over everything on the news side.

Murray comes to Nashville from Detroit, where she was assistant managing editor for digital at the Free Press. In the story that announced her hiring in today's paper, she is now "responsible for strategic approach, performance management, audience growth and development and news content and quality across all platforms and products."

So, she's in charge now and in the ninth graf we learn that De Varenne no longer holds the title vice president for news.

That sounds an awful lot like a demotion.

(Oh, and managing editor Meg Downey magically retired on the exact same day. That's in the 10th graf.)

A lot of this has to do with Gannett company politics. De Varenne was hired by a publisher, Carol Hudler, who was pushed aside last year for a rising star within the company, Laura Hollingsworth.

Hollingsworth, you'll remember, astonishingly published a Q&A with herself after three months in charge under the headline "Tennessean publisher pushes for bold journalism." If you missed it, it's worth going back and reading, if only for the sheer chutzpah. (And, interestingly, it's one of the few stories that doesn't disappear after a few months from the Tennessean's site.) And now she's hired her rising star to run the news side.

One Detroit source described Murray this way:

"She (33!) and Amalie Nash (37) were largely the duo (both coming from Ann Arbor News in the past couple years) who were the 'leadership twins' running metro and the Free Press website. Amalie was named editor of the Des Moines Register 2 weeks ago."

The Tennessean story characterized Murray as "an award-winning journalist with more than a dozen years of experience in writing, social media reader engagement, digital editing and content production...."

To which the Detroit source told Pith, "What, a DOZEN years of experience? Well shiver me timbers."

And that's kind of the issue here. De Varenne has focused the energy of the Tennessean on accountability journalism over the last two years. There's no small bit of irony that the day after Murray was hired, there's a banner headline across the top of A1 with the paper claiming the scalps of three people at Clover Bottom following an investigation into health and safety problems there.

De Varenne also put together a coalition of newspapers that sued the state for records related to problems in the Department of Children's Services. The paper's reporting led to the resignation of a Haslam appointee and changes in how the department — often the first contact for children in crisis — will operate going forward.

Her reward for that work is a new boss who is "an expert in the area of consumer analytics, content programming and real time engagement."

De Varenne deserves better than that.

Nashville deserves better than that, too, but we're on record as saying Gannett should just sell the newspaper.

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