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HD Media, publisher of The Herald-Dispatch, the Charleston Gazette-Mail and several other newspapers and a magazine in West Virginia, has new leadership in its news division.

Lee Wolverton, who has worked at newspapers since 1986, has been appointed HD Media’s regional executive editor. He succeeds Les Smith, who is retiring effective May 1 after 49 years as a journalist, as the organization’s top news executive. Smith also served as editor of The Herald-Dispatch.

As HD Media’s new top editor, Wolverton will have responsibility over news operations at the Huntington and Charleston newspapers and their online news sites, as well as the weekly newspapers The Logan Banner, Williamson Daily News, Wayne County News, the Coal Valley News, Putnam Herald and the Lawrence Herald and the bimonthly River Cities Magazine.

He also will replace Smith on HD Media’s Operating Committee, which directs all operations at HD Media’s properties.

As part of the news leadership changes, Wolverton announced that Lauren McGill has been promoted from metro editor to associate editor of The Herald-Dispatch, taking on on-site administrative responsibilities and continuing her duties overseeing daily story planning and managing news staff.

Wolverton also announced that Jim Ross, currently the opinion page editor at The Herald-Dispatch, will continue in that role and add the role of development editor with responsibilities for coaching and guiding news staff in both reporting and writing.

“Lee is the consummate journalist,” said Jim Heady, HD Media’s regional publisher, in announcing Wolverton’s appointment. “He brings a depth of experience and expertise in running newsrooms that few others can match. He is passionate about doing journalism the right way, reporting exhaustively and emphasizing accuracy, fairness and context. That is evident in the body not only of his work as an investigative journalist but in the work of his staffs everywhere he’s been.”

Heady said Smith will be missed.

“Les has enjoyed a remarkable career that’s carried him across the country, from Nebraska to West Virginia,” Heady said. “His knowledge of journalism and news operations has helped guide us in a time of constant change in our industry. He has been a steadying hand that has allowed us to develop talent in our newsrooms and grow our digital audience when others are struggling to attract readership.”

Wolverton began his career with the Beaver County (Pennsylvania) Times. He wrote or worked as a reporter or editor for all of Pittsburgh’s major publications, including The Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and Pittsburgh Magazine, winning or contributing to regional, state and national awards. His work as an investigative reporter at The (Fort Myers, Florida) News-Press led to the federal conviction of a real estate fraud artist, triggered a Government Accountability Office investigation and exposed massive waste at a regional workforce development agency.

In addition, he has been a top editor at newspapers in five states, including tenures as the executive editor of the Amarillo (Texas) Globe-News, editor of The (Charlottesville, Virginia) Daily Progress and managing editor of The Roanoke (Virginia) Times, guiding each of those dailies to state and national investigative reporting awards. He led Virginia’s smallest seven-day newspaper to two consecutive state public service awards, competing against The Washington Post, Richmond Times-Dispatch and Virginian-Pilot, among others. In Charlottesville, Wolverton hired a photographer who later won a Pulitzer Prize, and reporters working under him there and in Roanoke captured state outstanding journalist awards in three of five years.

“I am excited about the opportunity to lead these outstanding news organizations,” Wolverton said. “The talent and dedication in our newsrooms runs deep. The tradition is rich, and we will be looking to build on it with strong, powerful journalism that makes a difference.”

Smith had been with The Herald-Dispatch since 2007. He served as managing editor until being appointed editor in March 2018. He was named HD Media’s regional executive editor a few months later after HD Media purchased the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

A native of Bismarck, Illinois, Smith is a graduate of Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and began his newspaper career in Danville, Illinois, as a reporter. He later served in editing roles in Coffeyville, Kansas; Fremont, Nebraska; and Lansing and Battle Creek, Michigan.

“Working as a journalist has been a great honor, and I very much appreciate the opportunities I’ve had to serve readers in a variety of communities,” Smith said. “Being in Huntington and working with former editor and publisher Ed Dawson continued my education in community journalism, even after many years in the business, and I have been blessed to work with many great people, including my current colleagues in the various HD Media newsrooms and throughout the entire organization.

“I will miss all of them, and wish them the best going forward,” he said.

He and his wife, Holly Wilson Smith, live near Huntington and have four grown children and eight grandchildren.

Wolverton said he was pleased to have McGill and Ross on board in The Herald-Dispatch newsroom.

“We are fortunate to have people with the dedication, skills and expertise needed to fill the immense void left by Les Smith’s retirement,” Wolverton said. “Lauren is a smart, serious journalist who knows her community and her staff, and Jim is a fount of knowledge about both Huntington and the larger region as well as journalism and compelling news writing. Together, they will ensure The Herald-Dispatch not only remains the region’s news leader but continues the pattern of strong growth seen on Les’ watch.”

McGill has worked for newspapers around the state for 15 years, starting out as a reporter, then as a copy editor at The Journal in Martinsburg before advancing to roles on the city desk at the Charleston Daily Mail and then the Charleston Gazette-Mail, now an HD Media publication. She joined the staff of The Herald-Dispatch in 2016. She lives in Huntington with her husband and son.

Ross joined The Herald-Dispatch staff in 1978. From then until 2009 he served in various roles, including reporting and editing. His beats included business, Lawrence County and Huntington and Cabell County government, and he was opinion page editor for about five years. Afterward he was a reporter and managing editor for a weekly business newspaper in Charleston. He rejoined The Herald-Dispatch in late 2018 as opinion page editor. He also is a freelance writer, editor and photojournalist.

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