September 16, 2009

Two more publishers leaving Newhouse newspapers

At least one reader of this blog must have smiled when learning that two more publishers in the Advance Publications chain are retiring.

Back on Aug. 29 I wrote about some moving at the Newhouse family's Alabama properties, including the leaving of a 72-year-old publisher. Anonymous wrote:
"72 year old Editor? In Portland, the Publisher is 87? I see a theme here...I understand loving the business, but are these the people we are counting on to take us into the future? to embrace change and new technology? Time to hand over the reigns was about 20 years ago."

Fred Stickel, 87, announced last week that he's done with the Oregonian on Sept. 18. His 59-year-old son Patrick F, president of the Oregonian since 1993, will serve as interim publisher but will not seek the permanent post he's long been expected to get.

Today, we learned the younger Victor Hanson III will retire as president and publisher of The Birmingham News. Hanson, 53, told employees Dec. 1 is his last day. He is the fourth generation to serve as publisher during the 100 years his family has been associated with the newspaper.

There's no mention of a replacement but last month oversight of the Birmingham News was part of a new role in Alabama. Ricky Mathews was named president of Advance Alabama/Mississippi the same day he became publisher and president of the Mobile Press-Register, the Baldwin Register and the Mississippi Press.

The Birmingham Business Journal said that under Hanson’s leadership, the News switched from evening publication to morning with the now-defunct Birmingham Post-Herald. It purchased the remaining years on the Post-Herald’s joint operating agreement in 2005 and moved into a new downtown building in 2006.

Fred Stickel came to Oregon in 1967 as general manager, moved up to president in 1972 and became publisher in 1975. In The Oregonian article, Stickel said he first thought about retiring at age 65 but Donald Newhouse, president of the private Advance Publications, had talked him out of retiring several times. (Stickel worked with Donald at another Advance newspaper - The Jersey Journal - 58 years ago.)

An Associated Press article quotes Tim Gleason, dean of the University of Oregon's School of Journalism, as saying Stickel is one of the few American publishers with so long a tenure, and that he Stickel was a force for newsroom innovation.
"The Oregonian is and remains today one of the best regional newspapers in the United States, and he's the publisher who built that."
That gets debated throughout Oregon, including on a post with a headline of Buying himself out.

Like most news organizations, circulation dropped during Stickel's time and he's had to implement buyouts, pay cuts, furloughs and other cutbacks. In February, Oregonian employees lose their long-time job pledge.

Oregonian writer Richard Read said Stickel also warned more is coming.
"This newspaper's going to have to restructure. It's too big for the revenue base."
Buying himself out also is where you can read that Stickel is retiring now "to be sure to get my retirement tributes in the paper before it folds" and learn which Michigan resident blogger Jack Bog thinks should replace Stickel.

Check out the comments for more opinions about the Oregonian's place in the community, the Newhouse's Internet strategy and why OregonLive disabled comments on the announcement.

Williamette Week published the announcement sent to all employees.

The Oregonian's editorial board did a piece Saturday - "Fred Stickel, uncommon leader." Among other things, it mentioned he appointed the newspaper's first African American editor, William A. Hilliard, in 1986, and the first woman editor, Sandy Rowe, in 1993.

The Oregonian's Editor Blog also had announced the retirement. No byline as it is almost word for word the press release.

Stickel's age as a hindering factor to success today is suggested in a comment on an article on the retirement by the Portland Business Journal, another publication in the Advance, Newhouse family. Guess they didn't know he is on Facebook, (I suspect he joined to ensure he sees timely photos of his grandkids. His wife died last year. Her obituary listed survivors as daughters Daisy Medici and Bridget Otto; sons, Fred Jr., Patrick, Geoffrey and James; 10 grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.)

Despite pressures of the Internet, Stickel is optimistic that the Oregonian will survive.

(Update: The 72-year-old publisher says he was forced out at the Mobile Press-Register and has sued.)

The Oregonian's publisher, Fred Stickel, announces his retirement

I've written about The Birmingham News from time to time. The Oregonian pops up too.


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