Neal Budde
New CJ Executive Editor Neil Budde. (Photo courtesy of the Courier-Journal.)

When we last left this media soap opera, everyone was jumping ship at Sixth and Broadway. They were leaving the place where, for most of my lifetime, making it in journalism meant you got hired at the Courier-Journal.

We reported that reporters were leaving for jobs at a TV station, or in public radio or – gasp – moving all the way over to the dark side by taking jobs in government, or at private sector media relations firms.

The golden ticket out for executives and long-time staffers was the corporate buyout. The newspaper, owned by greedy Gannett, was more about making a profit for shareholders than having enough bodies on hand to cover Metro Council meetings. It even hired a marketing guy to run the place.

No one remaining at the C-J would talk about a strategy for changing the downward trajectory. We didn’t know how many of the departed would be replaced. We speculated that rather than bring in a new chief, the corporation might save one huge salary by promoting from within for the top editorial spot.

And then … the lion roared again. Today is the first day on the job for new CJ Executive Editor Neil Budde, a big hitter in the digital publishing space in which the Courier so desperately needs to win.

Budde is the man behind the Wall Street Journal online and its rare publishing feat – getting people to pay for online content. He pushed Yahoo! News to the top of the industry. He’s built an entrepreneurial journalism business at DailyMe.com, a online news provider. He’s been busy since leaving the Courier’s newsroom after an his first eight-year stint there, which was some 27 years ago.

When he was introduced to the current staff last Thursday, he promised some changes.

“Undoubtedly there will be change. I realize that executive editors do get to make some new policy decisions,” Budde said, before telling the story of how he couldn’t be hired right out of WKU in the late ‘70s because the executive editor had a policy that you had to have five years of experience to get a job there.

Only after that editor left 11 months later was Budde brought on as a copy editor in May 1978.

In a piece published Sunday, he wrote about the challenge ahead, that he was “. . . excited about joining the effort to create a vibrant future for local media in a city and state rich in newspaper history.”

Budde then drew an analogy between his task and the Ohio River Bridges Project, calling both “massive undertakings that require a vision and skillful planning and at times will require some disruption but in the end will provide a vastly better experience.”

The cynic in me wants to criticize Budde for jumping on board as a fan of the Bridges project, fearing he’ll be in charge of continuing the C-J’s cheerleading for a project destined for failure.

But I’d rather see some of the changes he has in store first.

It’s impressive that Gannett didn’t just pluck some burned-out exec from the ranks of one of its own failing newspapers. Budde’s success in pioneering news ideas in online journalism at the Wall Street Journal and Yahoo! tell me he’s not content to simply rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic.

Budde, to indulge in a sports metaphor, is taking over a last-place team with only one way to go.

There have been a few new hires made to replace some of the departed reporters, and Bill Lamb has finished raiding the C-J newsroom.

Last week, CJ Publisher Wes Jackson announced a slew of changes – which seem to signal even more emphasis in online and local news while cutting what goes into print.

If I read this correctly, the Monday and Tuesday newspapers will have all editorial content on one page. That comes with a promise of more “robust” coverage the rest of the week.

Again, the cynic would say they’re simply cutting back on news early in the week. It seems to be a step that will make a future decision to eliminate the paper on those days a little easier for the public to digest.

As far as we know, that day is not on the radar, and the local newspaper isn’t dead yet.

It just hired Neil Budde.

Rick Redding is a Louisville native who’s been a part of the local news scene since the 1990s. He’s written for Business First, LEO and other publications. In 2006, he launched TheVilleVoice.com, and was later voted the city’s Best Blogger by Louisville Magazine. In 2011, LEO readers voted him “Best Local Feature Writer.” He’s also appeared frequently as a guest on local TV and Radio shows, discussing local media and issues. He operates a local site, LouisvilleKY.com.


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