Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – The bylines of Humboldt journalists are changing – if not the familiar names, then the entities listed beneath them. The churn in affiliations is being driven by the ever-whirling editorial turnstile at the North Coast Journal.
It’s the recent departure of former Journal Editor Carrie Peyton Dahlberg that has set in motion a fresh round of musical chairs in Humboldt’s journaloverse.
Dahlberg had served as editor of the Journal since June, 2011. She left in November for reasons not publicly disclosed.
Publisher Judy Hodgson announced in a Nov. 21 “Transition” column that the position of editor was being eliminated and that news editor Ryan Burns and arts and features editor Jennifer Fumiko Cahill would serve as co-editors.
“As publisher, I know I speak for the entire Journal staff in thanking Carrie for everything she has accomplished and we wish her the best,” Hodgson said.
But the Burns-Cahill co-editorship didn’t last very long. On Dec. 13, the Lost Coast Outpost website announced that Burns had accepted a position there, and will start Jan. 6. He follows former Journal staffers Andrew Goff and Hank Sims, who are also at the “LoCo.”
Taking Burns’ co-editor position at the Journal will be Thadeus Greenson, who is leaving the Times-Standard. Editor Kimberly Wear said Monday that a new reporter had been hired at the T-S to replace Greenson, but did not identify the replacement.
The dish on Dahlberg
Though nothing was said about it publicly, sources familiar with the situation said that Dahlberg’s departure came after a heated in-house controversy over a new initiative by Hodgson and general manager Chuck Leishman to coordinate editorial content with advertising.
“Judy and Chuck have been trying to monetize things,” said a staffmember.
The plan is to create seasonal “theme editions” of the Journal focusing on, for example, health and fitness, or home and garden themes. Topics covered in the paper’s news and feature sections will reflect the advertising push for those editions.
To some at the Journal, that crossed an ethical line in that advertising needs would influence editorial content. “She didn’t ever say, ‘Put X product in a news story,’” said one staff member.
But the perceived perforation of the firewall between advertising and editorial departments was troublesome nonetheless. Especially with regard to “sponsored content” that would somewhat meld advertising and reportage.
“What they’re proposing now is a ‘hybrid’ that blurs the lines,” said another staffer. “Carrie refused to take assignments from the advertising side.”
Hodgson declined to go into detail on the allegations. “Since its founding in 1990, the Journal has been guided by the same high journalistic standards,” she said in response to an inquiry. “Nothing has changed. We have a strong mission statement and guiding principles we all adhere to.”
Inside the paper’s offices, though, staffers said the prickly publisher offered a different rationale – that big-city standards such as those Dahlberg adhered to at the Sacramento Bee can be adapted or relaxed for “community journalism,” and that editors, reporters and ad reps are “all on the same team.”
The advertorial crisis was only the latest internal flare-up at the Journal. “It’s been a series of battles over the last four or five months,” said a staffmember.
“We started going down this road in July,” said another.
The bottom line, say insiders, is that Dahlberg’s departure wasn’t voluntary.
“She was forced out,” said an associate.
A Journal tradition
The editorial staff upheaval at the Journal is only the latest in a series of abrupt personnel changes at the newsweekly.
In February, 2011, then-editor Hank Sims found out by reading his own paper that he had been ousted from that position and reassigned as “web editor” by Hodgson in favor of veteran San Francisco Chronicle reporter and Journal co-founder Tom Abate.
Within days, a disgusted Sims had taken a job at Ferndale-based Lost Coast Communications. There, he was to help establish the Lost Coast Outpost, now a premier Humboldt news website where much of the former Journal staff works.
Within three months, Abate had lost his Journal job after intemperate remarks to an interviewer and a mental breakdown at a Janes Road motel. After that, the ever-reliable Burns was also tapped to serve as an interim editor, to be succeeded by Dahlberg the following June.
“Judy is very hard to work for,” summarized a Journal staff member.
For his part, Greenson is eager to take the reins at his new position.
“I’m excited for the opportunity,” he said. “The Journal has a great track record of local news coverage and a wonderful and talented staff. It has a world of potential, and I’m excited to be part of that.”