By: joe nicholson
The man who ‘was the Miami Herald’ to many resigned abruptly last week. He declined to give a reason for the departure. The publisher of El Nuevo Herald has replaced him.
MIAMI HERALD PUBLISHER David Lawrence Jr., who in nine years in south Florida became a larger-than-life newspaperman and community leader, resigned abruptly last week.
Listening in what the Herald described as “stunned disbelief,” several hundred of its employees heard Lawrence, 56, announce he was resigning, saying, “I frankly yearn for the opportunity to decide what I want to do with my life.”
Four months ago, Lawrence sparked a controversy among the same employees when he announced he had agreed to meet with the state’s top Democratic leaders to discuss a possible run for governor. Days later, he withdrew from those talks, saying he felt such an action would be “disloyal to the newspaper.”
Four Pulitzer Prizes
During his tenure, Lawrence’s editorial staff won four Pulitzer prizes, and he earned a reputation as a champion of that staff, fighting to protect it against cost-cutting measures increasingly demanded by the parent Knight Ridder chain. “We have cut a lot of other things, but we have not cut the newsroom staff, and we have not cut the (news hole) space,” he noted proudly in an E&P interview last week.
But in recent months, Lawrence faced powerful new pressures from Knight Ridder Inc. to further increase Herald revenues ? or downsize. The demand became more intense as its advertising came under increasing pressure from competitors and a March audit found circulation down about 9,000 to 353,000 weekdays and down about 10,000 to 492,000 Sundays.
“I admit a certain wearying element of all of that,” said Lawrence, who insisted commercial pressures did not prompt his resignation.
Tony Ridder, chairman and CEO of Knight Ridder, called Lawrence’s decision to resign “disappointing,” saying, “Dave poured his heart and soul into the job, and we are indebted to him.”
Boycotts and Bomb Threats
More than the Pulitzers and a shelf of other awards, Lawrence is likely to be remembered by historians as a journalist who stood his ground against a threat to the First Amendment.
After Lawrence took command of the Knight Ridder flagship, zealots among opponents of Fidel Castro sought to crush the Herald with a boycott. Inspired by the late Jorge Mas Canosa, they bought ads on Miami buses that read “no creo en El Miami Herald” ? I don’t believe in the Miami Herald.
Although the Cuban dictator attacked the Herald as an opponent to his regime and refused to grant visas to its reporters, some anti-Castro activists claimed the Herald sympathized with communism, and Lawrence got death threats.
“For 3 1/2 years, I started my car by remote control because Miami police and the FBI said, ‘You need to be careful,’ ” said Lawrence. “We were certainly under siege from some hard right elements.”
New Herald Publisher Named
Lawrence’s prot?g?, Alberto Ibarguen, was named publisher, effective immediately, and designated to replace Lawrence as chairman of the Herald and its Spanish-language sister publication, El Nuevo Herald, at year’s end.
Ibarguen, 54, has been publisher of El Nuevo Herald. Born in Puerto Rico and raised in the New York area, he becomes the first Hispanic publisher in the 96-year history of Florida’s largest newspaper.
Significantly, the transition also marked a switch from lifelong journalist to newspaper businessman. A lawyer, Ibarguen served as the Hartford (Conn.) Courant’s senior vice president of finance and administration and later as executive vice president of operations at Newsday and New York Newsday.
Accepting his new post, Ibarguen emphasized the bottom line, saying “the best guarantee” for the survival of good journalism is “the commercial success of our enterprise.” In prepared remarks sure to be scrutinized by nervous staffers who were already anticipating cutbacks, he warned the newspaper needed to become “significantly more profitable,” but insisted he would make cutbacks “over a period of time” rather than wielding “machetes or meat axes.”
Shut Down NY Newsday
When New York Newsday folded, it was Ibarguen who broke the bad news to the staff. “I will never do that again,” he told a Herald reporter. “If we had made tougher business and personnel decisions early on, we would have been in a better position to keep the newspaper going. But we didn’t. And that was a real lesson for me.”
‘He Was the Miami Herald’
Lawrence came to the Herald from the Detroit Free Press, another Knight Ridder paper, where his staff won two Pulitzers during his four years as publisher. Previously, he had been an editor at the Washington Post.
He never lost his sleeves-rolled-up attitude.
In 1992, Lawrence was outraged to learn that the St. Francis Xavier Catholic School, one of the few beacons in Overtown, Miami’s bleakest black community, would be forced by declining finances to close.
Lawrence wrote several columns seeking donations to keep the school open and raised $254,000. He later printed the names of those who gave. “If Dave had not gotten involved, that school wouldn’t be open now,” said the Rev. Joseph Ferraioli, the pastor who ran the school at the time. It’s still going strong.
That same year, Lawrence directed coverage of Hurricane Andrew; the result won a Pulitzer for public service.
“Dave was the steady hand in the city through riots, through hurricanes,” said Jim Towey, former head of the state’s Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services. “He was the Miami Herald. He stood tall in crisis after crisis.”
Most nights around 9 or 10 p.m., said Harden Dickey, the vice president for circulation, his home phone would ring. Lawrence would be calling from his car, said Dickey, “after a United Way dinner or something.”
Lawrence would spell at least one name and provide an address. Each was a person Lawrence had asked “in a casual, conversational way” if he or she subscribed, said Dickey. If someone didn’t, Lawrence would ask the resident to subscribe for a month and then let him know “what was not in the paper that you needed.”
Standing orders were to get the Herald on the new subscriber’s doorstep by 6 a.m. Those subscriptions were almost never discontinued, marveled Dickey, who said he would remember his publisher as “one of my best solicitors.”
?(Ex-publisher David Lawrence ) [Photo & Caption]
?(Alberto Ibarguen takes over) [Photo & Caption]
?( Editor & Publisher Web Site: http:www.mediainfo. com) [Caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher August 8, 1998) [Caption]