Ricky Mathews, who led the planning and execution of the digital-first publishing strategy at NOLA.com four years ago, will be leaving that position later in 2016.
Advance Local, NOLA’s parent, announced that Mathews will continue as president of the company’s Southeast Division and work on picking his successor.
The digital moves were paired with eliminating print editions several days of the week at the Times-Picayune. It resulted in a wave of layoffs in the print newsroom (some of those positions transferred to the digital side) and provoked both intense local criticism and national attention.
The Advocate, based in Baton Rouge, launched a New Orleans version of the paper to compete directly. The Times-Picayune then restored some of the daily print editions.
Mathews’ departure will complete a changing of the guard atop the NOLA organization. Longtime editor Jim Amoss announced his retirement last September. And earlier last year Mathews brought in a new publisher (David Francis) and a new top ad executive (Reggie Marable), whose sales experience was with Sprint rather than a media company.
I wrote in fall of 2013 about how few newspaper companies, amid all the talk of a digital future, had chosen top editors or business leaders with strong digital backgrounds. Advance, along with Gannett, provided a few exceptions.
So I am guessing Advance will seek out someone younger — Mathews is in his mid 50s — and perhaps with a non-traditional, mostly digital resume.
Despite the firestorm of criticism, Advance has pursued versions of the digital strategy, originated at its Michigan properties in the late 2000s, in all of its markets including Portland and Cleveland.
Essentially, the local news organizations reincorporate under a digital banner. Reporters and editors are charged with posting throughout the day to the website. Then a print edition, largely made up of those stories with some reworking and some additional material is put together at night for the next morning.
Because Advance is privately held, information on financial results is not released, though Advance Local president Randy Siegel sends the staff progress reports at six month intervals. The latest earlier this month said that the Advance sites continue to grow audience but that advertising was disappointing in 2015 as print continued to decline and digital grew more slowly than hoped.
Correction: A previous version of this story spelled Mathews’ name incorrectly in the headline.