The Mirror

Roll Call Shake-up: Copy Desk And Production Employees Quit

Betsy Rothstein Gossip blogger
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As of today, the entire copy desk and production teams at Roll Call are gone.

Just who will cobble together the publication is a mystery to many, particularly to those who still work there.

“So the question is: WTF?” asked a former Roll Call employee on condition of anonymity.

And the answer: “Don’t fuck with the copy desk is the moral of the story,” said a publication insider. “The entire copy desk has quit at rollcall. There is no one left. They have all announced they are leaving. How in hell will she put out a paper without a copy and production desk?”

The “she” in question is Editor-in-Chief Melinda Henneberger, who arrived at the publication in October.

Never fear. Answers may be closer than they appear.

David Ellis, the chief content officer and head honcho of the entire CQ Roll Call publication owned by The Economist Group, told The Mirror Friday that a new “senior director of visualization” starts Monday. The new hire is Jerry Sealy, who was previously the creative director at National Geographic Traveler.

Ellis added this weird bombshell: Roll Call has a new Assistant Managing Editor coming on board next week. He said this is in addition to Kris Viesselman, who joined last year. “All three have great background as design and product innovators and will be driving Roll Call’s look across all platforms,” he told The Mirror by email.

He also revealed this nugget: There’s a party planned next month for a “big announcement” from Roll Call.

According to a release dated February 18 that Ellis directed me to Friday afternoon, “Sealy’s arrival marks the latest in a series of high-profile hires with deep backgrounds in user experience. In the statement, Matt Mansfield, VP for Product Innovation, remarked, “Jerry has a proven track record of delivering smart, useful, engaging products. CQ Roll Call clients are the real winners here.”

Huh. What timing!

All these bad optics. Such little time. Henneberger came on board in the summer wake of beloved editor Christina Bellantoni, who left for the Los Angeles Times where she is assistant managing editor for politics. Henneberger was previously at Bloomberg Politics and before that, The Washington Post.

“I couldn’t be more enthusiastic about the chance to lead Roll Call’s talented team in this uncertain but also incredibly exciting moment for journalism,” Hennberger beamed in an October release.

Except as time has passed, the feeling from employees was not entirely mutual.

Henneberger is the second editor to try to get a handle on things since Bellantoni’s departure. Longtime Roll Call loyalist Jason Dick was immediately named interim editor. He is now a senior writer. In early 2016, Henneberger snatched Dick off the editor’s desk and gave him a new title.

Behind the scenes — between this year and last — trouble brewed.

Ellis is believed to have engineered the sudden and inexplicable 2015 departures of longtime White House reporter Steven Dennis, House leadership reporter Matt Fuller and House leadership editor David Eldridge. They’ve all landed on their feet: Dennis now covers the Senate for Bloomberg; Fuller is on the congressional beat at HuffPost; and Eldridge works for a news startup, Inside Sources.

Sources explain that Ellis’ philosophy is to make the publication have more of a national feel, which goes contrary to the very essence of what Roll Call has always been — a smart, quirky, focused, Capitol Hill rag.

But now the publication feels like a disorganized mish-mash of reporting. The House Leadership reporter has only been on the beat for three months. They’ve also brought on three highly qualified columnists — Matt Lewis and Patricia Murphy, both of whom worked with Henneberger at the now defunct Politics Daily, and Jonathan Allen, formerly of Bloomberg Politics, another publication on Henneberger’s resumé.

Late last year, Henneberger got rid of Managing Editor Cameron Easley, now at Morning Consult. Sources say the pair had a dispute over work flow and she forced him out. Easley did not return a request for comment.

Another big change: Under Dick’s brief editorial reign last summer, Warren Rojas, a longtime writer of HOH, the publication’s signature gossip column, was moved to the Politics Desk. It is not clear if it was Dick’s ultimate call to move him. Remember: Ellis has not been fond of the publication’s campus feel. The column is now written by Alex Gangitano, who came over from CQ Now.

It is certainly not unusual for a new editor to surround herself with a new, more comfortable team filled with former employees. Complaints about Henneberger center on one flaw: her communication skills.

“Melinda Henneberger, while talented in many areas, isn’t exactly communicative,” a source told The Mirror.

The whole scale departure of the copy desk and production team are said to be tied to upper management’s icing of  Easley – employees became fed up and felt the need to leave.

Henneberger and Dick did not return requests for comment.

Sources tell The Mirror that ever since Bellantoni left, a throng of Roll Call reporters have fled to other publications in Washington and beyond.

“If you look at the roster of employees from the day before Bellantoni left until today, it’s almost entirely different,” noted a former employee.