Orlando Sentinel goes through major leadership shake-up


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The Orlando Sentinel will now share its publisher and editor-in-chief with its sister paper, the South Florida Sun Sentinel, after ousting  publisher/editor-in-chief Avido Khahaifa.

Chicago-based parent company Tribune Publishing announced Monday that the Sun Sentinel's publisher and general manager Nancy Meyer will become the publisher of both newspapers. Similarly, Sun Sentinel editor-in-chief Julie Anderson will take over duties at the Orlando Sentinel and run the two papers. Both Anderson and Meyer have previous experience working in Orlando.

Orlando Sentinel managing editor John Cutter is being promoted to director of news operations and standards. The papers will reportedly combine forces to create a state news team with reporters covering politics, health and the environment.

"I am confident that Nancy's and Julie's leadership, news judgment and history of digital innovation will benefit the entire team in Florida," said Tim Knight, president of Tribune Publishing, said to the Sun Sentinel.

Tribune Publishing, known formerly by the hilarious moniker Tronc, announced a company-wide voluntary buyout plan for employees last week, according to the Daily Herald.

Khahaifa, who has been with the company since 1984 and in the role of publisher/editor-in-chief in Orlando since 2016, is leaving Tribune to "pursue other opportunities," according to the Orlando Sentinel. Khahaifa was the newspaper's first African American publisher. He declined to do an interview with Orlando Weekly regarding his tenure, saying that he instead preferred to "let the work we did during my run speak for me."

In 2017, the Orlando Sentinel was named a Pulitzer Prize finalist for its coverage of the mass shooting that left 49 people dead and countless injured at the gay nightclub Pulse.

"Sept, 1984, first task as a Tribune employee – copy editing a piece," Khahaifa wrote on social media. "[November] 2018, last task as a Tribune employee – copy editing a piece. Proud to say I gave everything I had, did everything I could, to make it a better company every day I worked."

One of Khahaifa's last interviews regarding the Orlando Sentinel was for a piece by the Columbia Journalism Review examining newsroom diversity titled "Journalism's Bad Reflection." The CJR has pointed out in the past that despite racial and ethnic groups making up about 40 percent of the U.S. population, they account for less than 17 percent of print and online newsroom staff.

The Orlando Sentinel did not provide details to the American Society of News Editors for the annual diversity survey among U.S. newsrooms, though a CJR review of the staff list found "far less than half of reporters are people of color." In Orange County, about 31 percent of people categorize themselves as Hispanic or Latino, while 22 percent of people indicated they are African American or black, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Africans Americans, Latinos and other people of color make up almost 60 percent of Orange County's total population.

The CJR piece also featured local LGBTQ advocates criticizing the Orlando Sentinel's limited coverage of the city's LGBTQ people of color after Pulse. Khahaifa reportedly declined to provide further information about makeup of the newsroom staff, according to CJR.

"We have been and are always studious about the significant ethnic, age, social, political, and economic diversity of our audience and market and go to great pains to be mindful of it when making decisions of all kinds," Khahaifa told CJR. "My reticence with regard to your project is a direct result of my experience with similar efforts, the results of which only made our task more difficult as discrete points and observations were highlighted in isolation, creating a skewed picture of just how complex our challenge is and how we approach addressing it."

After leaving the Orlando Sentinel Khahaifa told OW in a statement Tuesday that he stands by his comments and that the CJR piece "reinforced and amplified" his point. Khahaifa did not respond when asked why the newspaper refused to submit data to the ASNE diversity survey.

"[The piece] portrayed the Sentinel as an organization that ignored minorities and gay people, both in the context of the Pulse tragedy and in general; a place where minorities needed to fear speaking out about the issue of a lack of diversity," Khahaifa said. "It did so by taking a handful of discrete points and perspectives and casting them as a full picture, one that is distorted and inaccurate. It did so while leaving out readily available facts (regardless of my willingness to be interviewed) that would make it clear that picture was inaccurate. It's what has been done every time I've been approached about this topic, and it's personally offensive to me for reasons that I would think would be visibly obvious."

In a statement to OW in response to the CJR piece, a spokesperson for Tribune Publishing said the company would "engage new audiences by providing journalism and products that will serve our increasingly diverse communities." 

"We will seek out, value and support diversity in both the audiences that we serve and, in our workplace, where we are committed to producing opportunity for all," Tribune spokesperson Marisa Kollias said.

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