Life After Reporting

Many ‘Star-Ledger’ Reporters Turn to the ‘Other Side’ After Buyouts

NEW YORK-At least 16 reporters and newsroom staffers at The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., most of whom left the paper in the past year’s massive buyout, are now working for public officials or state agencies the paper covers.

In several cases, writers who covered a specific beat are now working for individuals or agencies upon which they once reported.

Star-Ledger Editor Jim Willse told E&P it was not a surprise that so many of his former staffers had found such positions, and believed the paper would maintain quality coverage either way. “I don’t have any view on it; it is not unusual,” he added.

Several of those who switched jobs said they understand why some would look at their change in position as unusual, but said they bring the same accuracy and honesty to their new jobs, many as public information officers, that they did to reporting.

“I had no idea what I was going to do, I didn’t think I would take it,” Wayne Woolley says of the buyout offer that came forward last summer and offered most employees one-year’s salary. “I started looking around and had a preliminary conversation with some folks in government, it was a matter of luck.”

Woolley, a military affairs writer whose career spanned 15 years with the Star-Ledger, The Detroit News and the Associated Press, believes his new job at the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs is a good fit.

“I would have a hard time doing this for an organization I didn’t believe in,” he said, noting that the paper does lose some “institutional memory” when so many veterans depart.

“It is upsetting.” Jim O’Neill, who spent 31 years at the Star-Ledger, believes he can bring a sense of news to his new post with the county prosecutor, which he contends is a plus for residents. “The Ledger’s loss is a gain for the people in the public sector who are able to hire talented reporters,” he said. “The public is well-served because I want to make the office look good, and to do that I want to be cooperative and as helpful as I can.”

John Holl, who covered Hunterdon County for the newspaper but now works in Union County, says he would not have taken a job in the county he covered. Holl, who left in 2008 prior to the buyout, says he does not believe it is a conflict to work for a public agency after being a reporter.

“I had a clear conscience with that,” he says. “I like to think that one of the reasons I took this job is that they want transparency.”

-Joe Strupp, Editor & Publisher

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