By: Mark Fitzgerald
Cathleen Black to leave the Newspaper Association of America
to become president of Hearst Magazine Division sp.
AFTER LEADING THE Newspaper Association of America during what was perhaps its most momentous half-decade, president and CEO Cathleen Black announced her resignation Nov. 28 to become president of Hearst Magazine Division.
Black, 51, will also be a member of Hearst’s board of directors when she begins work in New York City, Jan. 3.
For its part, NAA’s executive committee will begin the process of picking a successor at its regularly scheduled meeting Dec. 4.
“Somebody said to me last night, ‘You know, this is a plum job,’ ” Black said in an interview. “And it is. When I started, my guess was that [directing NAA] would be about a five-year commitment. Now the association is in strong shape: Membership is up 35%, it’s totally reorganized and focused on the right issues. In many ways, I feel I have done what I came to do. This could not have come at a better time.”
Black leaves an association that is dramatically different than the one she joined in May of 1991, when she was named NAA president and took the additional new title of chief executive officer.
Even the name is different: the American Newspaper Publishers Association became the NAA about a year after Black arrived. The association’s principal trade show, whose unwieldy formal name was often abbreviated as ANPA/TEC, became Nexpo.
More important, Black oversaw the elimination of an alphabet soup of six separate associations who represented newspaper marketers, circulation managers, researchers and others. They and the big Newspaper Advertising Bureau were all merged into the NAA.
During her tenure, NAA launched the Newspaper National Network, the industry’s most aggressive attempt to date, to reverse the long-term decline in national advertising by simplifying the ad ordering, placement and billing process.
Black was hired by NAA, in part, because of the high profile she had achieved as president and then-publisher in the start-up years of USA Today, Gannett Co.’s national newspaper.
Even before that, in 1979, Black made her mark at New York magazine, becoming the first woman publisher of a consumer weekly. And during her NAA term, Black attempted to raise the newspaper industry’s profile, especially as Congress debated numerous regulatory changes in the communications industry.
During Black’s tenure, NAA spent $2.78 million lobbying Congress, American Journalism Review reported in its November issue, citing lobbying disclosure files. By contrast, the magazine said, the old ANPA spent less than $40,000 in 1988.
“We get high marks for what we do on the Hill,” Black said of the association’s Congressional lobbying. “We understood that ANPA was not set up to do this job in a whole range of issues, from First Amendment to telecommunications to tax and postal issues to environmental issues.”
Black’s high profile sometimes rankled publishers inside the NAA, however. There was the issue of her compensation, for example, which reached $885,000 by 1995 and ranked her among the highest-paid association directors in the country. When her predecessor, Jerry W. Friedheim, resigned after 16 years in 1991, he was earning $240,000 annually.
Some small-paper publishers complained that the NAA was ignoring them in favor of big-city metros. Some of those metro publishers complained that a dues structure introduced during Black’s tenure dramatically increased their cost of membership.
In 1993, just a day before the NAA’s annual convention, Black’s former boss, Allen Neuharth, who is a former NAA chairman, used his USA Today column to complain that the association “once run by news-oriented generalists” was now led by “promotion-oriented hucksters and lobbyists.” Neuharth used a quote by Cathie Black ? a sentence fragment taken out of context, she said ? to illustrate his argument.
But despite the grumblings, membership grew 35% during Black’s term ? a time when newspapers were emerging from a sharp industry recession only to bump up against sharp increases in newsprint.
“Look, we had downsizing and reorganizing,” Black said, “but the bottom line is what we have to look at: Membership is up, we have six federations for marketing executives, we’re in new media, we’ve done a lot on the diversity front, we’ve refocused the technology department, we have a new technology magazine, Tech News, Presstime is a terrific monthly magazine about business, we have a three-year operating plan we never had before and NNN is going to make $30 million this year, a brand-new venture.
“I think I can depart feeling there are no problem areas.”
As her resignation was announced, NAA leaders praised her accomplishments.
“She leaves NAA on a roll,” said NAA chairman Uzal H. Martz Jr., president and publisher of the Pottsville (Pa.) Republican.
“We’ve been through a lot of things in the last four-and-a-half years. We’ve had the mergers, our finances are strong. NAA is going like gangbusters. She’s leaving with honor, with a lot of accomplishments.”
Similarly, Charles T. Brumback, chairman and CEO of Tribune Co. and NAA’s immediate past chairman, said he was not surprised at Black’s departure ? because she had achieved all she set out to do at the association.
“She had accomplished all the objectives, in marketing, in public policy, in new media,” Brumback said.
“Cathie has done an outstanding job . . . in the face of incredible adverse publicity in the trade magazines ? including Editor & Publisher, and you can quote me. And in spite of that, she has done an outstanding job . . . . People out there in the trade press ? and I don’t know if it’s because she’s a woman or because people are being laid off [at NAA headquarters] or what ? but the trade press has tracked her around . . . . She has moved forward on the right things and built an outstanding organization.”
Martz, Brumback, and seven other publishers on the NAA’s executive committee have a regularly scheduled meeting for Dec. 4, and will begin discussing how to pick a successor. Black begins her new position in New York City on Jan. 3.
Neither Martz nor Brumback would comment on what qualities the committee will be looking for in a new president and CEO. Brumback did, however, say that there is “at least one outstanding internal candidate,” whom he did not name.
Ironically, Black was recruited to Hearst by the same man who headed the search committee that hired her at NAA: Hearst president and CEO Frank Bennack Jr., a former NAA chairman.
“Few individuals have a better vantage point from which to assess today’s magazine industry than Cathie Black,” Bennack said in a prepared statement. “She understands strategy, the value of franchises, the fight for dollars in a competitive marketplace and she has a proven track record for launching new products.”
Black, who has not had a formal contract with NAA for about two years, said she has regularly discussed her career goals with Bennack over the years.
“I knew at some point I wanted to be back in a major operating role,” she said. “The timing on this just could not be better.”
Black succeeds D. Claeys Bahrenburg, whom Hearst said in a news release resigned to pursue other interests. Bahrenburg headed the magazine division ? the largest publisher of monthly magazines in the world, Hearst says ? when the chain decided to lower the circulation guarantee of most magazines while also raising their ad rates.
In a statement, Black said she “unequivocally” supports that policy.
Among the division’s 13 publications are Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar and Redbook ? many of them edited by friends and colleagues from her magazine years.
“While it’s not exactly like going home, in some ways it is like going to a very embracing community,” Black said. “It’s a nice fit; it’s more of a cultural fit for me.”
?(“When I started, my guess was that [directing NAA] would be about a five-year commitment. Now the association is in strong shape: Membership is up 35%, it’s totally reorganized and focused on the right issues. In many ways, I feel I have done what I came to do. This could not have come at a better time.”) [Caption]
?(? Cathleen Black, outgoing president and CEO, Newspaper Association of America) [Photo & Caption]