As reported last month, the Pioneer Press put out a call for six newsroom employees to take buyouts. In the event fewer than six stepped forward, there was a likelihood of layoffs. The paper did find six willing to leave early, however. These, courtesy of Guild spokesman Dave Orrick, are the names, positions, and tenures of those who have now departed:
Hal Davis, public safety team leader, about 9 years
Pat McFadden, suburban/education team leader, about 16 years
Elizabeth Mohr, courts reporter, about 10 years
Becky Welter, copy editor, about 40 years
Lauri Hopple, editor of Spaces magazine, about 30 years
The sixth, not named, is leaving for a job in Washington, D.C.
Among those people, Davis, 70, had one of longest, most varied careers. While he spent only the last nine years with the PiPress supervising coverage of St. Paul public safety and Ramsey County courts, as well as editing columnists Ruben Rosario and Joe Soucheray, he’s been in the news game since 1968.
A Long Island native, his first job was with the UPI, then over to the New York Post during the, uh, raucous reign of Abe Hirschfeld and Wilbert Tatum. The former being a parking lot tycoon who freely admitted he knew nothing about newspapers. The Post’s predicament didn’t improve a whole lot when Rupert Murdoch won the paper back after a long, head-shaking public brawl … and gutted the union. Hirschfeld, by the way, did two years in prison for hiring a hit man to whack his 72 year-old business partner.
After that it was a brief stay at Bloomberg then the National Law Journal, “I loved it there,” followed by a decade with the Dayton Daily News before meeting his wife, Liz Peterson, a Minnesota-based nonprofit executive, and signing on with the PiPress in 2007.
Good editors are a godsend for every writer, and Davis was certainly that for Dave Hanners, a PiPress vet (and Pulitzer-winner while at the Dallas Morning News) who regularly delivered some of the town’s best courtroom copy. Interlaced with vivid descriptions and telling novelistic details, memorably his coverage of Amy Senser’s trial, Hanners’ stories were always good reading and clearly benefited from an editor — Davis — with an special affinity for the material at hand.
That said, Davis is concerned that the latest round of buyouts means the PiPress is losing Elizabeth Mohr, the reporter who succeeded Hanners. “It’s an important beat,” said Davis. “I’ve always believed that, but I don’t know what the plan is now.”
PiPress editor Mike Burbach offers assurances that fresh blood will be brought in, “soon.” Like when? A month to six weeks? “About that, yeah. But soon. We’re going to fill it. That’s an important beat.”
Asked for his “sense of the room” after yet another round of cuts, Davis, who has seen plenty of slicing, dicing and upper management-induced chaos in his years, said: “Well, morale is a little down, I guess. But only because this thing is still shaking out. No one can say what it’ll be like when the dust settles. But I’ve got to tell you, the paper, the reporters doing the work, are full of energy. They really are.”
Asked if he cared to point to a few of the most energetic in the current PiPress newsroom, Davis said, “Well, a couple that come to mind are Marino Eccher and Jaime Delage. There are others. But those two have a really good sense of how to turn a story quickly and with detail.”
And what does he think of the PiPress’s prospects two years from now? “Two years? It’s hard to say,” he said. “And, of course, I’m still a print guy at heart. I’m partial to that end of the business.But with [PiPress parent company Digital First Media], it’s a lot like UPI way back when. You know, ‘A deadline every minute.’ So who knows what they’ll do?”
Davis, who was fighting a virus when we spoke, says he plans to continue devoting time to the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information and helping his wife, (who writes a blog),with her avocation collecting antiquarian poetry.
“I was going to retire this coming December anyway. But when they sweetened the offer, I decided to go now.” He adds, “We’ll see if being away from it after all these years drives me crazy. Or if having me around the house drives the wife crazy.”