In the media world, past is often prologue, and that’s particularly the case at al.com and the Press-Register after it was announced former publisher Ricky Mathews will once again be running the show for the Newhouse corporation in Alabama.
Monday it was announced Mathews, who has been running NOLA.com and the Times-Picayune in New Orleans since leaving the Press-Register in March 2012, is now heading a new company that will combine the NOLA Media Group and Alabama Media Group. The Southeast Regional Media Group, as the company is known, will operate all of Newhouse’s Advance Publications entities in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
The merger of the two groups was announced by NOLA.com Monday. The company is scheduled to launch later in the year and will bring the Times-Picayune, NOLA.com and the entire Alabama Media Group — which includes the Press-Register, Birmingham News, Huntsville Times, Mississippi Press and al.com — under one roof with Mathews at the helm.
Mathews’ return to Alabama was greeted with groans by former Press-Register employees who view him as a “hatchet man” with a high tolerance for the pain some feel when slashing budgets and staffs. His arrival in New Orleans came after overseeing many cuts at the Press-Register. At the same time the Times-Picayune, along with the four papers in the Alabama Media Group, all scaled back to only three days a week.
Whether Mathews being brought back to his old stomping grounds portends another round of cutbacks is only speculation at this point. Some al.com employees have even said his presence might help reverse the current trend of almost all of the Alabama Media Group’s leadership and essential services being moved to Birmingham.
The NOLA.com announcement said the merger stems from a desire to boost readership and revenue at both NOLA Media Group and AMG. At the same time it also said individual media organizations would continue to work independently of one another for the most part. Mathews’ comments in the NOLA.com story indicate the company is very heavily focused upon its digital products and what it sees as the future of the industry.
“Since launching our new digitally focused companies in 2012, we have enjoyed explosive growth in our digital audience and revenue in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi,” Mathews was quoted as saying. “We have produced high-impact, prize-winning journalism in service to our communities and are committed to remaining the premier journalistic watchdog in the region. Thanks to the outstanding work of our journalists and sales professionals in the region, we now reach more than 13 million people a month online – an increase of 150 percent and significantly more than all of our competitors combined – and have aggressively expanded our advertising base.”
Mathews will serve as president of Southeast Regional Media Group. David Francis, executive vice president and associate publisher of NOLA Media Group (NMG), moves to publisher at NMG. Tom Bates, who has been serving as an interim president of AMG since April as a search was conducted for a new president, remains in that role.
Jim Amoss, NMG vice president of content, and Michelle Holmes, his counterpart at AMG, are said to be involved in planning for the new company. Plans are for the different news organizations to share “best practices” and work on enterprise projects, but otherwise stay as separate as they currently are.
Francis was quoted in the article as saying there are no plans to change printing or delivery schedules for any of the newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi or Alabama.
Beasley leaving WPMI
Local 15’s Chief Meteorologist Derek Beasley will be leaving the station later this summer to take a new job.
WPMI’s General Manager Bobby Totsch confirmed that Beasley has told the station he is leaving. Totsch described the departure as amicable and simply Beasley taking the next step in his career.
“This is one of those things where people just look at opportunities to grow and look at options. Derek is looking forward to a new chapter in his life and career, there is nothing more than that. He and his family will be taking a new challenge in another market,” Totsch said.
Beasley joined WPMI in August 2009 as chief meteorologist, coming from WLWT-TV in Cincinnati. He also had stints in Ft. Smith, Arkansas, and Columbus, Mississippi, prior to that.
Totsch said he’d hoped Beasley might stay at WPMI, but in the television industry moving to a new market is often part of the life.
“We had a long discussion about him staying with Local 15 and I know it wasn’t an easy decision for him. Derrick is a talented meteorologist and many doors are open to people with his skill level. We are sorry to lose him, but we will maintain the highest standard of weather reporting and will continue to focus on the standard he helped us set here at Local 15,” Totsch said.
Beasley will announce his new position when he is ready, Totsch said, adding that the station is already engaged in a national search for his replacement. Beasley will stay on air until mid-August.
“We wish him well, and I know he feels the same about Local 15,” Totsch said.