'Statesman' Editor Retiring; Paper's No. 2 Stepping Up

Rich Oppel stepping down in June, at which point Managing Editor Fred Zipp takes over

After 13 years at the helm, Austin American-Statesman Editor Rich Oppel, 65, is retiring in June, the paper announced last week. He will be replaced by longtime States­man No. 2 Fred Zipp, who has been running much of the day-to-day operations in recent years.

Oppel's glory years came in Charlotte, N.C., where The Charlotte Observer won three Pulitzer Prizes during his tenure as editor. Big prizes eluded him at the Statesman, but most observers agree it developed as a better, more news-focused paper after his arrival. Under his watch, the Statesman moved into the Digital Age, launching websites routinely listed among the most highly trafficked newspaper sites in the country. Oppel also was a mainstay of newspaper journalism associations, serving on the Pulitzer award committee and as president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors; he was named Editor of the Year by the National Press Foundation in 1987.

But as the Statesman has gone through a colorful redesign in recent years, management has displayed little editorial zest. Beyond flashes of good work, the paper, like many around the country, has steadily shrunk while sticking to the same basic formulas. Mean­while, Oppel's presence in the paper has been increasingly rare – his column appears every few months, and Zipp handles most of the notes to readers. The Statesman's page-one retirement-coverage noted the duo "even had a team blog for a while," without noting the blog lasted only a few months, before both Zipp and Oppel fled from the intensity and immediacy of the Internet Age. (Oppel and Zipp did not return calls.)

Amidst much discussion of fishing in the Statesman's report, when asked the reason for his retirement, Oppel said, "It was time." He added that it's healthy for papers to change editors after "12, 14, 15 years," noting, "There is a need for change and refreshing the leadership." Cox Newspapers' choice for "change" and "refreshing" the Statesman is Zipp, whose résumé reads like that of the ultimate company man. He has worked for only one company for 24 years, Cox, steadily moving up through midlevel editor roles at the Statesman and its sister paper, the Palm Beach Post. He was named managing editor in 2000.

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Austin American-Statesman, Rich Oppel, Fred Zipp, Charlotte Observer, American Society of Newspaper Editors, National Press Foundation, Cox Newspapers

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