Updated 1:52 p.m.
When he was hired in 2013, Budde, 60, had a mandate to expand upon the online presence of The Courier-Journal, but now sources at the publication say that he was recently taken to task for overemphasizing those aspects over print.
Gannett corporate leaders visited The Courier-Journal recently, these sources said, and indicated their unhappiness with how the newspaper was progressing.
A source at the Courier-Journal tells IL that a Gannett executive spoke to the staff in a meeting last week and was critical of the leadership at the paper, saying it had lost focus on its print product in its emphasis on expanding its digital efforts — not naming Budde but clearly implying so. What’s more, staff morale and numbers are lower than they would like, so Gannett is looking to reorganize, the insider said.
The executive cited many problems, among them valuing and emphasizing the importance of individual reporter’s metrics too much, while too many mistakes wound up in the print editions.
In March 2016, Romenesko reported on a social media bracket challenge contest at The Courier-Journal that pitted reporters against each other for attention on social media. The rules stated that reporters would advance to the next round by “generating more local/mobile traffic from social referrers to courier-journal.com than your opponent for that week.”
A Courier-Journal tipster to Romenesko said: “After repeatedly told website hits aren’t a competition between reporters in Louisville [at the Courier-Journal], here we have one. This email was sent out to reporters Tuesday afternoon. Entry was not voluntary.”
Before Budde’s resignation, Wes Jackson, president of The Courier-Journal, had spoken with staff and sought an honest assessment of how things were going, receiving many similar complaints about the obsession with metrics.
Budde has reportedly not been in the office this week.
Jeff Taylor, an editor at The Indianapolis Star, a sister publication in the Gannett chain, is reportedly managing The Courier-Journal until a plan can be put in place.
Budde was founding editor and publisher of The Wall Street Journal Online and is considered a pioneer of digital news. He first joined The Courier-Journal in 1978 and worked there eight years, first as a copy editor, then associate editor of the Sunday magazine and assistant business editor.
He hails from Elizabethtown. He earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Western Kentucky University in 1977 and received his MBA from the University of Louisville in 1984.
“I appreciate Neil’s efforts on behalf of The Courier-Journal, our readers and our community. We wish him well in his future endeavors,” Jackson said in the article announcing Budde’s sudden resignation. “We have initiated an active search to identify the next individual to serve as editor of The Courier-Journal.”
Sources say that The Courier-Journal is looking to hire more investigative reporters and sharpen its focus amid heightened competition.
IL reached out to Budde for comment but has yet to hear back. He recently posted the following post, which has since been deleted, on his Facebook page:
This post will be updated.