People - August 2007

Paper puts editor on the firing line
By Chris Roush

Like any attentive newspaper editor, the Greensboro News & Record’s John Robinson knows his biggest competitors today are online. “We have to try even harder to get [readers] to choose us. The truth is that we do some stuff that probably doesn’t provide a whole lot of value to our readership. We need to drop some things.”

In June, the N&R dropped 41 workers, including 18 in the newsroom, and in July Robinson was deciding what coverage to prune. He won’t say what that might be, but stories from outlying regions may become scarcer. While the layoffs represent fewer than 10% of employees of the paper — owned by Norfolk, Va.-based Landmark Communications — it’s 15% of the editorial staff, which now has 110 employees. It’s the first newsroom layoff in the 22 years Robinson has been with the paper, he says.

Newspaper chains often bring ax-wielding editors from the outside to trim excesses, but Robinson climbed the ranks. After working for The Asheville Citizen-Times and The News & Observer, he joined the News & Record in 1985 as assistant city editor, and eventually became city editor, assistant managing editor, editorial-page editor and team-management coach.

Born in Staunton, Va., and raised mostly in Tulsa, Okla., Robinson, 54, graduated in 1974 with a bachelor’s in English from St. Andrews Presbyterian College in Laurinburg. Initially turned down by the Monroe Enquirer Journal in 1976 because he couldn’t type, he was hired a year later when another reporter didn’t work out.

In 1999, the year he became the N&R’s editor, the paper expanded its newsroom by 35 employees. Then the recession hit. “We didn’t get the advertising revenue that we wanted, so we started paring back.” Three years later, he asked reporters for more local coverage and more investigative pieces. Newspaper editors over the past five years have been touting in-depth local coverage as something readers don’t get from other media. “We believe people are looking for a newspaper to give them the big local news of the day ... and serve as a watchdog for the community’s interest,” he says.

The goals remain, he says, but much of the work will be online, where videos and blogs supplement the print edition. “Twenty years ago, if you really wanted to know much of anything about the world or even your community, you had to buy the local newspaper. Now, that’s not really true.”

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