By: Mark Fitzgerald
Top execs leave the Chicago Sun-Times as new owner takes over sp.
IN A SYMBOLIC changing of the guard at the Chicago Sun-Times, publisher Sam McKeel resigned effective July 31.
McKeel, who was also chief executive officer of Sun-Times Co., joins three other top executives in leaving the company now owned by Conrad Black’s American Publishing Co.
In recent weeks, resignations were announced by Sun-Times Co. general manager and executive vice president Michael Veitch, chief financial officer and treasurer Joseph Gaynor III, and controller and vice president Bernadette Soens.
Separately, Vernon Jarrett, Chicago’s most venerable African-American columnist, accepted a buyout package offered to employees of the Sun-Times and its Pioneer Press and Star Newspapers suburban community newspaper chains. Jarrett’s last column ran in the July 10 editions.
American Publishing, which bought the Sun-Times Co. for $180 million on March 31, previously said it put aside $10 million to finance staff cuts at the tabloid and its sister suburban papers.
In that regard, publisher and CEO McKeel’s departure was no surprise. American Publishing’s prospectus, issued May 4, said McKeel and other senior managers had signed severance agreements that took effective at the sale’s closing March 31.
“When I agreed to stay after the sale of the company, it was always intended to be a transitional period,” McKeel said in a statement.
“This is a tough, competitive market and it’s essential that there be a very clear direction of leadership and policy,” said McKeel, 67. “That can now be provided by American Publishing officials. So I have concluded that now is the time to remove myself as CEO of the Sun-Times Co. and publisher of the Sun-Times.”
In his five years at the head of the Sun-Times, the courtly veteran McKeel brought a badly needed measure of stability to a newspaper suffering the combined effects of a severe industry recession, a heavy debt load from the leveraged buyout engineered by its investment group owners, and revolving-door senior management that named four publishers in as many years.
F. David Radler, president and chief operating officer of Hollinger Inc., American Publishing’s parent company, said no successor will be named to McKeel’s former positions “at this time.” Instead, three Sun-Times executive vice presidents ? editor Dennis Britton, Charles Champion and Thomas Neri ? will have direct oversight of the company and will report to Larry Perrotto, president and CEO of American Publishing. All three executives joined the Sun-Times Co. during McKeel’s tenure.
With the senior management picture settled for now, attention is being focused on the approximately 2,200 full-time employees of Sun-Times and its 61 community papers.
Earlier this summer, the company laid off 21 non-union employees (E&P, June 11, p. 13). American Publishing had set July 1 as the deadline for buyout applications. The number of employees who will be leaving will not be known for some time, the company said. And negotiations with the Newspaper Guild unit representing Sun-Times newsroom employees are expected to get underway in earnest soon.
Negotiations with the Guild unit at Pioneer Press were declared at an impasse last February. Newsroom employees continue to work under the terms of the old contract, but terms and conditions were posted for production workers, who work under a separate Guild contract.
On July 18, the Sun-Times announced it would lay off approximately 30 employees over the next few weeks. Layoffs will affect the accounting, advertising, computer, circulation and production departments.
? ( Publisher and CEO Sam McKeel’s departure was no surprise. American Publishing’s prospectus, issued May 4, said Mckeel and other senior managers had signed severance agreements that were effective at the sale’s closing March 31.) [Photo & Caption]