Friday, December 16, 2005

Brain Drain at Houston Chronicle?

A former Houston Chronicle news gal, Jennifer Sizemore, has been named the head of MSNBC.COM.

Sizemore was a deputy managing editor at the Houston daily before she decamped to the brighter lights of MSNBC.

One can hardly blame her for leaving the Chron in order to land such a prestigious position. She probably passes Keith Olbermann in the hallway every once in while, which must be a bigger thrill than seeing Jeff Cohen at the water cooler.

Sizemore's defection, however, again raises the recurring question of whether there's a brain drain going on at the Houston daily. Every once in a while, we run across the names of former Chron employees and realize that lots of people are movin' on, if not to necessarily greener pastures, then to pastures that are at least different.

In the old days, people tended to go to work at the Chron and stay there until they retired. That was definitely true in the good old days of ownership by the Houston Endowment, the non-profit trust created upon the death of one Jesse Jones. Chron employees got hefty Christmas bonuses every year and regular annual raises, whether they were productive employees or just sat around playing solitaire on the computer all afternoon. Everyone was fat 'n happy.

Things gradually changed when the Heart Corporation took over, but it took a long time for Hearst to finally assert a tidal shift to the Chron culture. This, I'm pretty sure, coincided with the new economic realities of the newsprint industry (lowering profit margins.) Now, those changes are in full swing, and as a result, people don't stay there as long as they once did.

That's not necessarily bad. And not necessarily good. It depends on who's moving and who's staying, and passing judgment on whether the overall talent level at the newspaper is slowly leaking air is a tricky business, at best.

There's no doubt, though, that people are leaving the Good Ship Chronicle, some willingly and some via layoffs.

Casual persual of the Web informs us that former Chronicle photographer Smiley Poole, a crackerjack shooter if there ever was one, recently won an award for a picture he took of Pope John Paul's body being carried by weeping Catholics. He took the photo for the Dallas Morning News, his new employer.

Then we noticed that former Chron staffer Evan Moore, who used to crank out semi-annual magnum opuses that sometimes won awards for the Houston daily, has taken over ownership of the Bosque County News, a weekly, along with his wife, Diana Hunt Moore, another former Chron staffer who took a detour with the Dallas paper before settling down to rural weekly journalism.

Let's see, who else .... oh, then there's veteran crime reporter S.K. Bardwell, who left the Chron to help her hubby run the new Angleton Observer here in Brazoria County ... and Wendy Benjamison, who once held the title of city editor and assistant managaging editor/Sunday, we noticed is now cranking out copy for the Associated Press in Houston ... Then, of course, Lucas Wall, the Chron's former transportation writer, who went to the Boston Globe in a case of jumping from the frying pan and into the fire ... and ... as reported by blogHouston, asst. city editor Raequel "Roxie" Roberts recently fled 801 Texas to return to her previous employer, Metro, to work as a flak.

There's bound to be more. All I know is, there are a lot of new bylines in the paper these days and rumor has it they belong, by and large, to writers who have little experience and, therefore, are willing to work for modest wages. This, obviously, is a byproduct of the lowering economic prospects of the newspaper industry in a tough advertising market.

It's good to have young, eager employees on your newspaper staff, people who have not been jaded and don't roll their eyes when they're ordered off on some wild goose-chase assignment.

But it's also good to have employees on your newspaper staff who know a thing or two about the city of Houston, the state of Texas and the difference between a city manager form of governmnet and a strong mayor form of government.

What do you think?


Kevin said...

Other notables: John Williams bolted to work for Baker & Botts, and Frank Michel now spins for Mayor White as an actual member of the administration.

Kevin said...

Oh, and you had earlier noted that Andrew Tilghman left for... Stars and Stripes.

Banjo Jones said...

yeah, i forgot some. also, miriam moynihan left the business department of the paper. she was a top flight desk editor who apparently wanted to move into the reporting ranks but was not allowed to do so ...

Banjo Jones said...

further scuttlebutt received today has bilingual Chron staffer Edward Hegstrom abandoning ship. our source said this about that: "he up and quit right after his big series on "illegal immigrants are people, too" series ran. Seemed like he was a pretty good reporter. Guess he won't be around for the Pulitzer presentation."

Anonymous said...

Add to the list of seasoned reporters who have left is JoAnn Zuniga, one of the the few Hispanics that once worked for the Chron. She took the buy out a year ago at the same time as Evan Moore. Despite support she recieved from LULAC and Hispanic community leaders, Cohen still cut her loose. She is now an Associate Producer at Fox 26

George C. Costanza said...

S.k. Bardwell passed away today. B