Palm Beach Post Gets New Publisher, But Will Anything Change?

To some reporters at the beleaguered newspaper, Tim Burke's promotion to publisher of the Palm Beach Post this week was a welcome change.

Burke was as assistant sports editor at the Miami Herald who went on to become an award-winning sports editor at the Post, then worked his way up the management chain. Many people in the newsroom like him, and are thrilled to have a publisher who's a journalist, rather than a bean counter.

But some ex-Post employees say that Burke, the paper's third publisher in two years, isn't the job savior some might imagine. Cox Enterprises, the Post's Atlanta-based parent company, is still calling the shots, and has made it clear that

the newsroom will no longer enjoy the well-funded status it had before the real estate market crashed in 2007.

Burke's new job makes him both editor and publisher of the paper -- merging two positions that were once considered essential on their own. Traditionally at daily papers, the editor is in charge of news, and the publisher goes to chamber of commerce luncheons to help bring in cash and maintain the paper's image in the community. Which will be Burke's focus now?

(Burke could not be reached for comment today. When the Juice called his office, his voicemail box was full).

In 2008, when Cox sent Doug Franklin to be the Post's new publisher, he forced a symbolic, but significant change at the paper's West Palm Beach headquarters. Franklin moved then-editor John Bartosek's office from the fourth floor, where the corporate execs are housed, to the second floor, near the newsroom. The message was clear: A newsroom that had for years been cushioned with enough cash to buy touch-screen voting machines, rent SUVs to cover hurricanes, and send sports reporters to the Olympics, had lost its special status.

That August, 300 employees left the paper through buyouts and layoffs. Newsroom staff was cut roughly in half. 

The next publisher was Alex Taylor, the 34-year-old nephew of Cox CEO James Cox Kennedy. Taylor was friendly and upbeat, albeit a bit clueless about the low morale in his newsroom. This summer, he announced more layoffs, then left to run Cox operations in Ohio.

Burke has been at the Post for 16 years, so at least he can't be seen as a corporate outsider. And he's run the paper's website for the past nine years, so he's more knowledgeable than some of his peers about how to enter the digital age.

But he'll only be heralded as a hero if he brings in more cash, and finds a way to reinvigorate the newspaper's decimated staff.  

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