Nearly a year after the retirement of former executive editor Mike Townsend, the Burlington Free Press has settled on a replacement. The paper announced Friday that it has hired former Virginian-Pilot editor in chief Denis Finley of Norfolk, Va., to take the reins of the Burlington newsroom.
"He's a good guy — a good find," said Free Press publisher Al Getler, hailing the new hire as a "solid leader" with a "very positive attitude."
Finley spent 28 years at the Virginian-Pilot, working his way up the ranks from staff photographer to the paper's top job. He served as editor in chief from 2005 until March 2015, when he took a job as communications director for the nearby Chrysler Museum of Art. Finley told Seven Days Friday that he "definitely missed journalism" and had been looking for opportunities to return to the field.
"I miss the daily drumbeat of news coverage — especially when there's an election coming around the corner," he said.
The Free Press has been without a newsroom chief since October 2015, when Townsend and four other veteran employees took a buyout offer from corporate owner Gannett. Getler said that he had stepped in during that period to "provide day-to-day leadership in the newsroom" and was looking forward to handing it off to Finley.
"We have worked very hard this past year. We have a solid team that works very well together," Getler said. "He's going to come here, work with the team and bring us to the next level. That's his charge: to keep on moving us forward."
Finley, 64, said he was impressed with what he saw at the Free Press, calling it a "nice-looking paper" with a "really good staff." He said his goal in his new job was straightforward: "The big plan is to always do great journalism." Finley plans to start work on October 17.
Seven Days news editor Matthew Roy served as Virginia Beach editor of the Virginian-Pilot during Finley's tenure. He called his former colleague "a solid journalist" who had a tough job running the newsroom during a period of downsizing.
"Denis was the guy who had to make some very hard decisions," Roy recalled. "I will say that he did everything he could to preserve the core mission of the paper."
Roy added, "I think he's a good get for the Free Press."