By: Richard Prince, Journal-isms

Longtime newsroom leader Hollis R. Towns, (pictured) company vice president for local news, (USA Today Network) recently wrote colleagues , "After 18 years in Gannett, it's time to say goodbye. I will be stepping down and plan to spend the next few weeks with family and taking a much-needed vacation."

In Houston, Maria Reeve, after a year and seven months as the Chronicle’s first Black top executive editor, was named to the newly created corporate position of vice president-editor for content initiatives for Hearst Texas. She told Journal-isms she’s excited.

At USA Today, Michael McCarter (named interim editor-in-chief last month with the departure of Nicole Carroll, will not get the job permanently. McCarter will instead become "Gannett Opinion Editor, leading our opinion surge across the network and USA TODAY."

Towns, Reeve and McCarter are Black journalists.

For the Poynter Institute, Angela Fu reported a bigger story, at least for Gannett, publisher of USA Today and, the company says, hundreds of local media outlets.

"USA Today's vice president and executive editor of news and initiatives Kristen Go has also left, making her the eighth high-ranking editor or executive to depart Gannett in the last six months," Fu wrote May 11. Go is one of the highest-ranking Asian Americans in the news business.

"The company, which underwent several rounds of cuts last year, has experienced a mass exodus among top leadership. In November, president of Gannett Media and USA Today publisher Maribel Perez Wadsworth announced she would be leaving at the end of the year. A wave of departures followed, including president of Gannett’s news division and USA Today editor-in-chief Nicole Carroll and senior vice president of local news and audience development Amalie Nash. . . ."Wadsworth is Cuban American.

Colleagues described Towns’ departure as the most surprising. "It’s been a pleasure working with all of you. You are the best team!" Towns wrote. "I’ll be cheering you on from the sidelines." He advised that if they ever found themselves near his New Jersey home, "stop by for some good old-fashioned southern BBQ!"

Towns messaged Journal-isms. "It was time after 18 years. I plan to take some time off for now, but looking forward to the next chapter. Stay tuned!"

After 12 years as a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Towns went on to become editor or managing editor of the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Gazette, the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Asbury Park Press in New Jersey. Then he assumed corporate positions with Gannett, most recently as local news editor.

As the then-vice president of local news initiatives, Claire Wang wrote in June 2021 for the NBCU Academy, "Towns led a group of editors to develop a training program that, over the next month, will be rolled out across Gannett’s more than 250 newsrooms. It offers specific guidance in terms of word choice: Don't write 'officer involved shooting,' for example, when you mean 'the police shot someone.' The strategy also pushes reporters to rethink their coverage of low-level property and domestic crimes that aren’t necessarily public safety issues."

Towns will be succeeded by Michael Anastasi, a veteran editor now leading the newsroom of the Tennessean in Nashville. Anastasi told Journal-isms he will remain in Nashville.

Anastasi was in this space in 2010 and 2011 when, as president of Associated Press Sports Editors and managing editor of the Salt Lake Tribune, he launched the APSE Diversity Fellowship Program.

That initiative primarily targets mid-career professionals, with the aim of preparing and supporting fellows "for leadership positions and advancement at all career levels of sports journalism while providing lifelong access to the program’s support network."

Asked for a progress report, Anastasi said "Class XI of the APSE Fellowship Program graduates in July, bringing the total number of graduates in the 12 years of the program to 54. Class XII will be selected in late summer.

"Virtually all of our graduates have advanced in leadership, some of them several times and throughout the industry. The big development of the last couple years has been that in 2020 we formed the APSE Foundation, a [503(c)(3)] non-profit to support the program. This has really stabilized fund-raising and operations with its own board of directors. Lisa Wilson of The Athletic is the executive director. I am president of the foundation and continue to direct the program with a large cast of volunteers assisting. Here is the website."

As for Gannett, Anastasi said, "Diversity, of course, continues to be foundationally important for our entire company. It is one of our stated North Star goals and a shared responsibility we all take very seriously, particularly those in leadership roles."

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