Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Post-Gazette's Dennis Roddy to leave, take job in Corbett administration

Posted By on Tue, Feb 1, 2011 at 2:11 PM

Dennis Roddy, a fixture of Pittsburgh journalism for nearly four decades, is leaving the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and taking a job in the fledgling Corbett Administration.

"It was time for me, at age 57, to find out if I possess any transferable skills," says Roddy. 

Roddy's job will be in communications. And while he says his exact duties have yet to be defined, he won't be a spokesman: "Let's face it -- no one would believe anything a reporter has to say."

Roddy will start the new position, which will require him to split his time between his Mt. Lebanon home and Harrisburg, next week. 

Roddy says several factors motivated him to take the job. 

While he's upbeat about the long-term future of the newspaper industry -- "I remain convinced that we're coming into an extraordinary era of journalism," he says -- he also anticipates a painful period of transition.  New online revenue streams needed to support the industry have yet to be devised. "In 20 years, it will be possible to earn a solid middle-class living at this," he says. "But for a guy in his late 50s, the transition won’t be easy. A lot of people will drop to the side or move on and find something else. I'm one of them

"I can’t spend too much time complaining about it," he adds. "I've had a lot of fun over 37 years, but if I’m contemplating a change, I have to do it now. This could be a good call, this could be a bad call. I might regret doing this. But if I don’t make this change, I know I'll regret it."

In any case, Roddy notes that his family currently draws two salaries from the paper -- his wife, Joyce Gannon, is also a P-G employee. "That's the economics of it." 

Roddy's decision to join the Corbett administration may surprise some: When he's written columns or op-ed features, he's often written from a left-of-center viewpoint, particularly on economic issues. And my own sense of him has largely been that he's the quintessential Johnstown Democrat -- a strong supporter of unions and progressive economics, while a working-class Catholic who often skews more conservative on social issues. (ADDED: Though he's hard to pigeonhole -- in union negotiations at the paper, he's agitated for domestic-partner benefits for same-sex couples.)

Roddy declined to discuss his political affiliations-- and I'm in too much of a hurry to run down to the county elections office and look up his party affiliation. But he agrees that "In Cambria County, a Democrat was someone who was socially fairly conservative."

More importantly, he says, "Tom Corbett is going into office as a reformer, a guy who went in and prosecuted the very people who write his office’s budget. I think that’s very very hopeful." And in any case, he adds, "This is bigger than party politics. This is just another way of trying to tell a story" -- a chance to learn how government works from the inside.

Whatever the reason for it, Roddy's departure will be a big loss for the Post-Gazette: He's been one of its strongest and most distinctive voices, breaking stories on everything from mine safety to political scandals. But he's often been a cantankerous figure in the news room, with a reputation for butting heads with his supervisors on many occasions. When I told him the paper would miss him, he said, "Some of them are going to miss me for my reporting -- and some of them are going to miss me because they didn’t adjust the scope on their rifles.

"I pitch a lot of fits, and I make a lot of trouble, I know that," he confesses.  In December, he says, his hard drive crashed, "and one thing that struck me was that one of the things I lost was 11 years of resignation letters.

But "Those letters were written out of minor outrages," he adds. "This was a resignation letter written in a major hope."

More details on this story to come.


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