Here’s who’s taking the latest buyout from the Pioneer Press

MinnPost photo by Corey Anderson

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.”

Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by david hanners on 04/08/2016 - 11:05 pm.

    I hate to see the Pioneer Press lose good people — and everyone on that list is top-flight — but at least they are leaving on their own terms.

    And, yes, Hal Davis will be sorely missed. He was a pro’s pro, editing copy quickly and incisively and never leaving too big of a footprint on it. That’s how great editors work. I lost count of the times he saved my butt, and I wasn’t always the easiest person to work with.

    Hal has a million stories and I hope his post-buyout life includes writing them. He really could turn out the next “The Shipping News.”

  2. Submitted by John Ferman on 04/09/2016 - 09:58 am.

    Does this signal the end

    When organizations shed important people, one generally suspects it is the first peelings of the last death knell. In the few times I see a PP it seems to be a thin verneer of its former self. Hate the thought of a one-newspaper region.

  3. Submitted by beryl john-knudson on 04/10/2016 - 08:21 am.

    When newsrooms go dark

    …and news becomes a federal program issuing messages, tabloid form that are stuffed into mailboxes on a gray future morning with all the news government issue instead of cuddled by corporations this time?

    And the Word is no longer written by reporters as such but department heads sponsored by whomever is the active administration at the time?

    News will become a performance game by those in power and what you read is what you get and J-schools close down for they draw no fine wordsmiths because where are real jobs anymore but programmed messages makers sans truth?

    …and a wee bit of guilt too, must be laid on those who bought into the corporate system and the reader too who failed to support the printed word even with limitations which are essentially the paper trained roots of what was once a free press?

    But don’t give up because somewhere the ghost of read-all-about-it past rises in an old village paper somewhere on the western prairie where a ghost of a guy sits wrapped in cobwebs, hunched among an old press or two similar, cobwebbed; green eye shade pulled down low and listen, he’s typing on an old Underwood (that’s a typewriter) and the linotype machine in all its ugly boldness ticks away in the background while a newsboy waits at the door.
    Here news would have no federal or corporate’sponsors limiting the word or the wordsmith and the printer and if you look again at the old dream fellow with the eye shade, resembles that guy named Stone or is it Seldes?

    Either way a humble people warped out of place by the now/future tabloid replacing the paper as we once knew it so compromised lately?

    Here could be the paper; new but old too….something to touch again because its real paper and it has the smell of ink like fine perfume…news revives; real news independent wordsmiths, investigative writing that makes the reader believe the ‘new free word’ and there will be “Sunshine on your doorstep”…who knows what the future holds?

    It was a fine dream anyway…we need our newspapers independent and investigative writers well paper trained, so goes the dream…

  4. Submitted by rolf westgard on 04/11/2016 - 10:59 am.

    Essential morning read

    I couldn’t manage my morning coffee without the Pioneer Press. Hang in there please.

  5. Submitted by Richard Voorhees on 04/11/2016 - 04:50 pm.

    New York Post

    Wilbert “Bill” Tatum was the effective director of a Lower East Side community organization in the 60’s. No money there! Later he worked for the City and had some effective years in Harlem. I had not heard about this episode. Ah, well there was money and investments. He lost track of everyday realities.

  6. Submitted by Pat Borzi on 04/13/2016 - 11:35 am.

    PP not going anywhere

    Those fearing the Pioneer Press will close or be bought by the Star Tribune shouldn’t worry in the short term. The PP makes money or Digital First Media, the company that owns it, would have shuttered it long ago. By stripping the PP to the bone, DFM squeezes every dollar of profit out of it, most of which balances out the chain’s under-performers. They won’t give it up easily. Selling the building, as many newspapers have in the last decade (including the Strib), generates $$ as well.

    Long-term, the PP must have local ownership again. Like Glen Taylor in Minneapolis and John Henry in Boston, St. Paul needs a civic-minded investor who cherishes a vibrant newspaper in his or her town. Here’s hoping someone steps up soon.

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