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Thursday, May 16, 2019 12:06 am

Muhs leaves SJ-R

Staff walks out with her

 The entire State Journal-Register newsroom escorted now former editor Angie Muhs as she was walked out of the building Monday by general manager Eugene Jackson after submitting her resignation.

“I was very touched,” Muhs said. “I didn’t expect that. … I have tremendous respect and admiration for the State Journal-Register staff. They’re dedicated. They’re hardworking. They care about doing quality local journalism, and they persevered under some really tough conditions.”

Reporter Dean Olsen said newsroom employees cried as Muhs left the building. She had previously announced her departure in a staff meeting, Olsen said, indicating that she hoped that her leaving might save sufficient payroll to prevent further layoffs in what has been a series of cuts since Muhs arrived in Springfield five years ago. The latest casualty was longtime photo editor Rich Saal, let go on May 1.

“Everyone walked out with her as a show of respect,” Olsen said. “We all gave her a hug and applauded for her and thanked her for the stand that she was taking.”

Muhs declined to say what she told her staff when she announced her resignation three days before she was walked out of the building on Monday. She praised Saal as one of the finest photojournalists she’d ever known.

GateHouse owns 156 dailies across the nation, more than any other company, and Muhs was a star. In 2017, she was named Editor Of The Year by GateHouse in the SJ-R’s circulation division.  “Angie Muhs exemplifies everything one could ask for from an editor,” former SJ-R publisher and president Todd Sears wrote when Muhs was named Editor Of The Year. “She is deeply connected to her community, constantly looks for ways the SJ-R can be a leader in community engagement, demands excellence from her team and works tirelessly to ensure deliver (sic) quality, impactful content to our readers every day.” For the second year in a row, the SJ-R this spring was named GateHouse Newspaper of the Year for its circulation division, despite an ever-shrinking staff.

Replacement plans for Muhs aren’t clear. Jackson didn’t immediately respond to an interview request, nor did officials at GateHouse, which has moved toward centralizing editorial operations. Copy editing for 200 newspapers, including the SJ-R, is done in Texas. The company recently posted a position for state editor in Missouri who would “supervise the planning, editing and production of all news content for the state of Missouri” and “monitor story selection, editing, layout and pagination of local, features, wire and sports pages.” The successful candidate need not have a journalism degree.

“We’re looking for a hands-on, visible leader that can grow print advertising and digital revenue while managing other functional areas of the business,” the help-wanted ad reads. “Bachelor degree in journalism, marketing or business preferred with a minimum of five years demonstrated experience with progressive management responsibilities.”

Cuts have accompanied consolidation. The SJ-R’s copy desk was laid off in 2012, with the work now being done in Texas. The paper is down to five news reporters, with the city hall beat vacant. For years, there have been no full-time reporters assigned to such beats as courts, police and education.

Muhs on Monday declined to discuss staff cuts, but she’s been vocal in the past. Last September, amid a round of cuts, Muhs tweeted a quote from New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger, who said, “You cannot cut the value of the product you give readers and expect them to reward you with growth.” Muhs included her own take: “Amen. If only all owners heeded these words.”

Olsen said Muhs appeared emotional as she left the building for the last time.

“I think she’s tried to fight within the channels of GateHouse to try to preserve the staff,” Olsen said. “I don’t know how successful she’s been. I know it’s been very frustrating for her. Her heart is in this.”

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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