On April 20, 2008, Bob Gibson’s byline will appear for the last time in The Daily Progress as its political correspondent, ending his 31-year career at the paper where he built his reputation as one of the best reporters in the state. Gibson, 58, is set to become the executive director of UVA’s Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership on April 21.
“There’s nobody that The Daily Progress has—or anybody else has—that can go into that job and have it done like Bob Gibson does it,” says Bob Lewis, a reporter for the Associated Press who has worked alongside Gibson in the Richmond press corps since 2000. “You just can’t throw another body in there and hope to match what Bob Gibson gave them.”
Bob Gibson says that his departure from the Progress isn’t related to parent company Media General’s financial declines.
Gibson graduated from UVA in 1972 and joined the Progress in 1976, covering courts and police. In 1992, Gibson became the special projects editor for the Progress, where he ran a series of stories on racial disparities in sentencing in four Charlottesville area courts that had a major impact on the court system.
“I think it was one of the things that led to the formation of the public defender’s office in this area,” says Delegate David Toscano. “He spent a lot of time researching the story, and the Progress let him do it in multi-parts, something that you would not see anymore.”
Gibson’s three decades at the Progress give him a unique vantage point on a newspaper industry that has seen a sharp decline.
“Newspapers across the country are going through leaner times,” says Gibson. “The profit margins, while good, aren’t what they used to be. Many good papers are seeing positions frozen, and there aren’t the opportunities to fill them as fast as they should be refilled when somebody good leaves.”
Media General, the publicly traded company that owns the Progress, has seen its revenues and share price decline in the past two years. According to press releases on its financial situation, January revenues for its publishing division declined 14.9 percent from 2007 to 2008. In response to the declines, Media General expects to cut publishing expenses by $10 million in 2008 by lowering newsprint consumption and discretionary and compensation cost. This means smaller papers to go along with smaller salaries.
Gibson says the financial doldrums newspapers are navigating didn’t play a role in his decision to move to the Sorensen Institute.
“Mine was an individual decision based on the opportunity that all of a sudden presented itself,” he says. “It’s hard to leave this place because it’s a wonderful place to work and I’ve got great people to work with. But I have watched Sorensen grow…and frankly, I wanted to be a part of that.”
Gibson will continue to host his radio talk show on WVTF and will write occasional columns for the Progress.
“You’re only 58 once, and I think that it clicked in my mind that it’s a good time, while I’m still active and interested and passionate about so many things, to switch into a new field where I get to learn more about the things that I have interests in,” he says. “I’m looking at a job that allows me to marry all my passions to a new mission without leaving them behind. I’m very lucky.”
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