Meet your new CA team
In mid-June The Commercial Appeal newsroom had a half dozen vacancies on key beats, driven mostly by departures to the Daily Memphian, an online startup.
Some readers wrote to me, questioning our commitment to covering local news and to Memphis, where we've operated for 177 years.
That's when I committed to the staff, those readers, and the larger Memphis community that we would rebuild our staff and dedicate our team to covering Memphis even more vigorously.
Five months later, we have rebuilt the newsroom staff and readers are noticing our reinvigorated local coverage. I call this a good start.
The photos that accompany this story show you our entire local team, including the new staffers. It's your team of reporters, photographers and editors dedicated to independent journalism about Memphis, its people and institutions.
First, some numbers. Since June 1, we have hired 15 journalists to fill openings, including the key beats I mentioned. Since Jan. 1, we have hired 20 journalists, ranging from government and suburban reporters, to reporters overseeing growth and development and FedEx.
Our newsroom is more diverse than it was a year ago. It is a mix of veterans and some folks just starting their careers. We have several natives of the Memphis area who wanted to return to do journalism here.
One such native is David Cobb, who grew up in Bartlett and had been covering the University of Tennessee-Knoxville sports for the past two years. He started Monday as the Grizzlies reporter, fulfilling a career dream to return to his hometown to cover the NBA franchise he grew up watching. We have hired two other sports reporters since Aug. 1: Tigers basketball reporter Drew Hill and high school sports reporter Khari Thompson. They joined sports columnist Mark Giannotto, Tigers football writer Evan Barnes, and reporter Jason Munz, who covers trending stories and the startup football and soccer teams.
As we rebuilt the staff, we doubled down on our commitment to investigative reporting. A year ago we fielded one investigative reporter. Now we have two, giving us more firepower in this important area.
In late August, we promoted longtime reporter Daniel Connolly to investigative reporter. And in September we hired Sarah Macaraeg, a veteran investigative journalist who has worked in Chicago and most recently did a reporting stint in New Mexico. Her recent report on the exorbitant phone rates in the Shelby County jails and prison is an example of the reporting we will showcase on our investigative team.
Another major change was on our suburban reporting team. We've hired two reporters — Abigail Warren (covering Germantown) and Katherine Burgess (Shelby County government, Bartlett, Lakeland and Arlington) — to join veteran Katie Fretland, who covers Collierville. (We are hiring a fourth reporter to cover DeSoto County.)
We revived our breaking news team, adding local journalist Micaela Watts and Phillip Jackson, who last worked for the Philadelphia Bulletin and is a native of the Washington, D.C., area. They joined veteran courts and justice reporter Linda Moore and trending reporter Ron Maxey.
In business, we hired Desiree Stennett and Max Garland to join veteran business reporter/columnist Ted Evanoff.
Stennett, who has worked in Orlando and St. Petersburg, Florida, is covering growth and development, including tourism, downtown development and commercial and residential real estate.
Garland, who came from the Charleston, West Virginia, newspaper, is covering FedEx, the logistics industry and health care.
Our first hire was Jennifer Chandler, a local food writer who became the food and dining reporter in July. She recently started the monthly Lunch Break feature that showcases three places in Memphis where you can get a meal for less than $10. Chandler joins veteran entertainment reporters John Beifuss and Bob Mehr.
In June we tapped then-Memphis city government reporter Ryan Poe to write The 9:01, a Monday-throughFriday news and notes column that is a must-read if you want to know what's happening in Memphis.
To replace Poe we hired Jamie Munks, who was covering city government in Las Vegas Review-Journal. She started in September.
Hiring staffers and getting them immersed in Memphis has been invigorating and fun. This is, after all, a special place worthy of strong local coverage.
I have been impressed by the energy and talent of our recent additions. The new team members join an already strong group, including schools and children reporter Jennifer Pignolet, opinion and engagement editor David Waters and local columnist Tonyaa Weathersbee. All will undoubtedly be an asset to the community.
Finally, the team that creates the memorable images you see and the videos you watch continues to be anchored by veterans Mark Weber and Brad Vest, who have been joined by Joe Rondone and Ariel Cobbert.
The staff rebuilding was the early, necessary part of the ongoing work to better cover the relevant news, trends and people that matter to Memphians. You have my commitment that we are going to continue to get better.
Mark Russell is the executive editor of The Commercial Appeal. You can reach him at email@example.com or 901-529-2302. You can follow him on Twitter: @MarkRussell44
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