The Courier-Journal’s new top editor is an Internet journalism veteran with Kentucky roots.
Neil Budde was introduced Thursday as the replacement for Bennie Ivory, the Louisville newspaper’s executive editor since 1997. Ivory retired in July.
In the early 1990s, Budde developed the initial versions of The Wall Street Journal’s web presence, which was an early adopter of paid online content, the newspaper said. Last year, The Courier-Journal implemented its own paywall.
Budde left his role as editor and publisher of The Wall Street Journal Online in 2002 and later landed at Yahoo! to run its news operation.
Lately, Budde ran AxisPhilly, a non-profit “online-only publication placed an emphasis on data-centric journalism and investigative reporting,” according to Philly.com. He left in July because of funding issues.
He’s a veteran of Kentucky, as well. Early in his career, Budde was a reporter and editor for The C-J, USA Today and other newspapers. He spent part of his youth in Elizabethtown and earned a bachelor’s degree for Western Kentucky University and an MBA from the University of Louisville.
His New Job
In Louisville, Budde will lead a newsroom diminished in recent years by staff departures—first in job reductions, and lately by journalists leaving willfully for new ventures.
He’ll also carry on a mandate from the Gannett Co.—The C-J’s parent company since 1986—to foster an online-first approach to disseminating news.
Gannett’s year-old attempt to focus on its newspapers’ web presence while implementing a paywall has not brought the number of online subscribers that the company forecast, Gannett Blog reported this summer.
Considering that C-J Publisher Wes Jackson’s background also in in web publishing, Budde’s mission presumably be to address those numbers in the Louisville market.
What Budde’s Said in the Past
A decade ago, Budde was consulting companies to consider what their customers wanted from them and to be responsive to feedback. This was before the proliferation of social media, mind you.
Five years ago, Budde discussed the “future of news” at a conference—and he mentioned The Courier-Journal’s decision to close a state bureau and depart from its Bingham family-era mandate to cover the state of Kentucky.
“The change that occurred after the newspaper was sold by the Bingham family to Gannett, some people will say that the family was willing to accept versus those that were demanded by corporate ownership,” Budde told the audience. “But I think in reality the difference in what has happened is more about the switch from selling these bundles of information to starting to break up apart the information into small bits and the pressures that will put on our ability to gather news and information.”
Budde told the audience that that mine-safety coverage in Hazard, Ky., may be important to editors—but didn’t necessarily make economical sense in today’s (or that day’s, at least) media climate. News consumers were taking their news in bites, and that tied itself to the economics of news organizations, he said.
Much has changed in the past five years in the news media, so it may not be wise to read too much into what Budde said then.
But the economics of news will be something he’ll confront at The C-J. The newspaper has faced rounds of job reductions in recent years. In 2011, a dozens of employees were laid off. In 2012, several veteran journalists (including editors in sports, features and the Metro desk) took a buyout packages. This summer, several C-J staffers left of their own volition.
They included courts reporter Jason Riley—whose coverage of the Savannah Dietrich trial drew national attention—and Marcus Green, who’d covered major Louisville projects such as the KFC Yum Center and the Ohio River Bridges Project. Both left for WDRB, along with former C-J business writer Chris Otts.
C-J digital news editor Mark Schaver joined retired C-J reporter R.G. Dunlop at the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting (which is part of Louisville Public Media, WFPL’s parent). Jessie Halladay, former public safety (and later social services) reporter, and Buzz columnist Christa Ritchie left the news industry. There were others.
(Disclosure: I worked at The C-J in several news departments and was laid off in 2011 for a few weeks until being rehired in a new position. Last year, I left to come to WFPL.)
Budde has a large footprint online. (For example, I learned from his blog that he’s an “avid golfer” with a hole-in-one to his credit.) But he hasn’t had much recent experience in a print newsroom, making his practically a 180-degree shift from his predecessor.
Now, he will take over a newsroom that has lost staffers faster than it can replace them, though it’s still Kentucky’s largest news staff. Meanwhile, he’ll have the job of ensuring that Louisville is fully on board with its parent company’s digital plans.
Also, C-J Publisher Wes Jackson announced some changes to the newspaper’s sections today.