Detroit Upheaval: Big Meetings This Afternoon at Two Papers

By: Joe Strupp

Special staff meetings for The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press have been called for 4 p.m. today, according to newsroom sources. Employees at both papers say they expect a change in ownership — first reported by E&P last night and confirmed today by the AP — to be announced at the meetings. A memo sent to Free Press workers requires all employees to “make arrangements to attend.”

The e-mail note, signed by Free Press Editor and Publisher Carole Leigh Hutton, states, “As you might have guessed, we will have an important staff meeting at 4 p.m. today on the first floor of the newsroom,” according to an employee who received the memo. “Please make arrangements to attend and please do all you can to get some of tomorrow’s paper out of the way before that since we’ll be meeting so close to deadline.”

A source in the News editorial department also confirmed that staff had been summoned to a similar meeting at 4 p.m.

Hutton did not return calls seeking comment. News Editor and Publisher Mark Silverman also could not be reached Wednesday morning.

The memo follows E&P’s earlier report of rumors about a major change in ownership for the two papers, which currently operate under a joint operating agreement. One scenario suggests Knight Ridder would turn over the Free Press to Gannett Co. Inc., which owns the News. Gannett, in turn, would transfer the News to MediaNews Group, the Denver-based chain that owns The Denver Post and Oakland Tribune.

Sources have also said speculation is rising over changes in the JOA, instituted in 1989, which is currently overseen by a five-person board of directors. The board includes three Gannett members and two from Knight Ridder.

Other rumors indicate more newspapers owned by the three corporations may be involved. Also, there may be a change in editors, with new editors arriving from out of town.

Speculation about some kind of upheaval has been increasing since January, when Frank Vega, former director of the Detroit Newspaper Agency, left to become publisher of the San Francisco Chronicle. He has not been replaced, with interim CEO Ed Humphrey running the newspaper agency.

“The longer it has gone on, the more the buzz has grown,” said one source. The newspaper agency also recently spent more than $170 million on new presses.

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