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Poynter Institute loses head fundraiser, clearest sign yet of financial mess

By on December 23, 2014
chris martin poynter

In what is the sharpest indication yet of the financial mess at the Tampa Bay Times, a major leadership shakeup took place Monday at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, the paper’s legal owner.

As part of the “restructuring all facets of the institute,” Poynter chief Tim Franklin announced the departure of President Chris Martin, who also served as vice president of external relations – the person in charge of fundraising for the St. Petersburg-based organization.

Martin’s departure is the latest move in “bolstering the finances of the institute for the long term,” Franklin said.

“We’ve made significant progress this year, and I’m quite optimistic about 2015,” he added. “This restructuring has included changes to the teaching team, our leadership and our program coordinators.”

According to the statement, Martin will return to the academic world.

In February, Franklin was named president of the financially strapped Institute, which reported debt of nearly $3.5 million in 2013, the third consecutive year of million-dollar-plus losses.

Earlier this year, the Poynter-owned Times began slashing staff, starting with buyouts and early retirement, all with the goal of cutting up to 10 percent of its workforce. After that, there was talk of selling premium Poynter-owned waterfront property in St. Petersburg.

It also prompted a mass exodus from Florida’s largest circulation daily, with the loss of dozens of high-profile reporters, columnists and editors.

Florida lifestyle columnist Jeff Klinkenberg led the Times migration this summer by announcing his retirement, followed by sportswriter Gary Shelton, who left to enter the online journalism field with his own local sports-based paysite. Then came buyouts of reporter Joe Childs and city editor Heather Urquides.

Enterprise editor Bill Duryea and reporter Michael Kruse left in November for similar roles at POLITICO; food and travel writer Janet Keeler announced she is taking a position at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

In December, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Will Hobson became the latest staffer to exit, taking a job at The Washington Post starting next month.

Chris Martin rose to Poynter president in January after serving 23 years as a journalism professor and nearly a decade as vice president for university relations at West Virginia University. She also served as dean of the university’s Perley Isaac School of Journalism. During that time, Martin acted as co-director of Poynter’s summer college-journalism program from 1997 to 2004.

Franklin said Martin chose to leave the Institute after several discussions about reorganization and Poynter’s future.

“It is her wish to pursue some new opportunities in higher education,” Franklin said. “Chris has spent most of her career in academia, in several leadership positions, and that’s a continuing passion of hers. I wish her well in that pursuit, and I’m grateful for her help in getting the foundation off the ground.”

Taking Martin’s place as executive director will be Elisa Jackson, to lead Poynter’s fundraising efforts. Jackson has been with the Institute since September 2013 following a two-year stint as assistant director of development at the University of South Florida.