Major Newsroom Reorganization, Changes Announced

Major Newsroom Reorganization, Changes Announced
Major Newsroom

BERLIN — A major reorganization within the news department was announced today at The Dispatch, the weekly newspaper circulated in Worcester, Sussex and Wicomico counties.

Staff Writer Joanne Shriner’s departure last week after five years with the newspaper to accept a marketing position with the Town of Ocean City’s Recreation and Parks Department was the catalyst for a series of changes in the newsroom, according to Editor/Publisher Steve Green.

“Joanne spent five great years here and grew over that time. While sorry to see her move on, I was grateful for the significant notice period, which allowed the opportunity to get creative with how we could reassign some responsibilities and go in a new direction,” Green said. “Change is good and we embrace it here because it’s the best way to get better and grow our operation. Plus, personally, it keeps me motivated and excited about what we do. I see it was a wise investment in our product and brand.”

Shriner’s former beat, mostly comprised of Ocean City government, will now be covered by Shawn Soper, who has been with the company for 15 years. The former news editor will now assume the title of managing editor with additional responsibilities and a larger story load.

“Shawn has literally done it all here in the newsroom, and he cares as much about the content of this publication as I do. He began covering the county and Berlin beat in 2000 and for the last seven years he has been tackling the police and legislative beats, among other coverage. He will now add City Hall coverage and is more than capable of handling the added responsibilities,” said Green.

Soper, who grew up in the Baltimore area, has always been focused on whatever makes the publication better and continuing to evolve the product.

“We believe the reorganization of our newsroom will make our operation even stronger and continue our evolution as the news leader on the Lower Shore,” he said. “We’ve never been known to let the grass grow under our feet and have continually adjusted and adapted to the changing media world and this latest change will make our product even better. I’m looking forward to getting back in the trenches and covering the Town of Ocean City and its government directly again. There is a lot going on in Ocean City all year long and we’re going to stay out in front of it and deliver what’s most important to our readers.”

Green also announced today the return of Bryan Russo to the news team. Russo worked at The Dispatch as a staff writer for three years, from 2007-2010, covering the Ocean City government beat. Russo left The Dispatch to work for NPR and had his own radio show called Coastal Connection for five years on a local affiliate. Russo won two Edward R. Murrow Awards and 19 Associated Press Awards during his five years with public radio. Despite the show’s high profile and acclaim, it was abruptly cancelled earlier this year.

In his second stint with The Dispatch, Russo, who grew up in Pennsylvania and now is a Berlin resident, will serve as news editor and use his experience and creativity to focus on in-depth coverage of current events, telling the stories of this community in his unique way, coverage of the legislature when it convenes in January and more long-form type of news stories that may take a week or two to get together, according to Green. He will handle question-and-answer interviews that will appear on a regular basis in this newspaper, including this week’s piece with Bob Rothermel. Additionally, the full feature — The Dispatch Download — will also be posted online as a podcast, tapping into his experience in radio and bringing a new feature to the multi-media company. His insight will also be featured on the editorial pages on a regular basis.

“I look forward to bringing in-depth enterprise and investigative reports to the pages of this newspaper that provide insight and a ‘deeper dive’ into our lives here in this region. I promise to dig deeper, ask unforgiving questions, and value that relationship between the audience and the information,” Russo said. “… I’m very excited to be a member of this newsroom once again and to serve this community as journalist and storyteller.”

Green said Russo was his first thought when it came to adding a new person to the newsroom. He said he approached Russo like professional sports team would when trying to land a coveted free agent or recruit a player out of retirement, which is essentially how Russo viewed his journalism career after it ended abruptly with NPR. Soper is also eager to work with Russo again.

“It all starts with Steve and from top to bottom our newsroom is now one of the deepest and most experienced in the area,” he said. “The addition of Bryan, who has worked with us in the past, adds a different element to our already strong coverage of the local news.”

Additionally, Staff Writer Charlene Sharpe, who was hired last October, has assumed additional copy editing responsibilities and has been promoted to copy editor with the new duties.

“Charlene is skilled at looking over copy and she is charged with making sure the final product is as clean as possible. That will make us better as well and cut down on the mistakes that appear in the hardcopy,” Green said.

Sharpe, a Stephen Decatur High School graduate, spent more than seven years with the Gannett company prior to joining The Dispatch.

“I have really enjoyed my time so far as part of the news team at The Dispatch and am looking forward to expanding my responsibilities,” Sharpe said.

The new four-member newsroom brings more than 50 years of reporting experience on the lower shore to the company, Green said.

“This will be the most experienced news department we have ever had. Our readers should immediately notice an enhanced perspective and the heightened skills that come with that experience through our content,” said Green, who has been operating the company since 1997. “I am excited to welcome Bryan back into our fold and am eager to see how we will grow together as a team. I have high expectations for this talented group of veteran news people and I have no doubt we will continue to get better and better together each week in our print product and each day as we continue to be the digital leader in news coverage.”

Although Russo thought his journalism career was over because his heart was broken after his radio career came to a surprise halt, he is eager to get back to what he loves.

“After five years working for one of the largest NPR affiliate stations in the country [WAMU 88.5 FM in Washington], having my own award-winning show “Coastal Connection” at the top of the ratings in two different markets [DC and the Eastern Shore], and having my work heard by millions of people all over the world; I return to The Dispatch with a renewed excitement in the craft and much more to offer an already stellar team,” Russo said. “The Dispatch was a big part of my growth as a journalist, but to be completely honest, I wasn’t going to come back to this profession after losing my last job earlier this year due to sweeping budget cuts that had nothing to do with my work. I could’ve chased the industry and uprooted my family to anywhere else in the country, but at the end of the day, this is our home, and no job in the current climate of this industry would make me want to leave or ask my wife and kids to leave their lives here behind. So, when this opportunity came along, despite my reluctance, I realized my work in this profession is not done, and that, in choosing this region as our home for the foreseeable future, it opened the door for a sort of ‘coming home’ to The Dispatch.”