Hutton Knew About Pending Sale for Months

By: Joe Strupp

Carole Leigh Hutton knew for nearly six months that she might lose her job as editor and publisher of the Detroit Free Press while sale negotiations between Knight Ridder and Gannett occurred quietly behind the scenes. But the 15-year Free Press veteran, who will have to relocate for her next Knight Ridder assignment, says she kept her mind on work to avoid thinking about the possible upheaval.

“I was aware of the talks between the companies, but I was also aware that they could fall apart at anytime,” Hutton told E&P Thursday, less than 24 hours after Knight Ridder sold the Free Press to Gannett and removed her from the editor’s post. “I found out about them earlier this year and that there had been talks even before that. It was hard not to think that it might all change.”

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During that time, Hutton went through the daily highs and lows of newspapering, ranging from the paper’s fun coverage of the Detroit-hosted Major League Baseball All-Star Game last month to the difficult task of suspending Mitch Albom after the columnist wrote about a college basketball game before it occurred in April.

“I wasn’t focused on it,” she said of the negotiations. “I was focused on doing a good job and I think people were pretty unaware until this week that it was happening.”

Hutton, 48, had served as editor for about three years, with six years before that as managing editor. She said Knight Ridder has promised to give her another assignment, although she would not say what or where it is. “I haven’t finalized that yet, but I am staying with Knight Ridder. We will have it finalized in a couple of weeks.” She would not say if the new job was an editorship at a paper, but said it was something she preferred.

Hutton’s departure from the Free Press coincides with the removal of Editor and Publisher Mark Silverman from The Detroit News, which is being sold by Gannett to MediaNews Group as part of the same deal. Silverman, who did not return calls seeking comment, is remaining with Gannett in another job, which also has yet to be announced.

Although she is grateful to remain with the company, she called Wednesday a terrible day for her, being forced to leave a newspaper and city she loves. “I was terribly, terribly sad to leave. I had a great job with great people,” she said via cell phone while visiting her grandchildren in suburban Detroit. “It is a great community to be part of. It was a heartbreaking day for me.”

But Hutton said she knew from the first word of sale negotiations that she would have to give up her job if a new owner came in. “It was always understood that I would not stay on and I offered to be a help in the transition,” she said. “What matters to me is making the transfer as easy as it possibly can be.”

Hutton’s replacement is Paul Anger, former editor of the Des Moines register, while Los Angeles Daily News Editor David Butler is replacing Silverman as editor. Although many observers contend that the Free Press will be forced to change and possibly cut resources under Gannett, Hutton says that it can remain strong. “I expect many of the good people to continue to be there,” she said. “We are already a lean operation and my hope is that they allow smart people to do what they can do.”

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