By: M.L. Stein
Three top editors at Lesher Communications resign citing
differences with management; rumors have chain up for sale sp.
THE THREE TOP editors at Lesher Communications Inc. in Northern California resigned over differences with the publisher and amid reports the profitable newspapers are up for sale.
There also was a report ? not denied ? that the three editors had tried to buy the chain’s flagship paper, the Contra Costa Times in the San Francisco East Bay area.
Suddenly quitting Aug. 8 were executive editor Clayton Haswell, managing editor Marcia Parker, and her husband, Bob Porterfield, group projects editor for the five Lesher dailies in the area.
Haswell, who has been credited with winning prizes for the papers with aggressive local coverage, declined to comment about the resignations.
Previously, he, Clark and Porterfield issued a statement to the staff saying, “Our career objectives are not consistent with the future of Lesher Communications.”
They thanked personnel for their “devotion to principle that made our newsrooms’ success possible.”
Haswell, who joined Lesher in 1990, waged a vigorous fight against county officials over such issues as sealed records and subpoenas to reporters, suing them on several occasions.
Lesher publisher and CEO George E. Riggs said “management differences” led to the trio’s departure.
“We mutually agreed the best course was for them to leave,” Riggs said. “But the resignations had nothing to do with journalism, the First Amendment or anything related to that. Management differences happen in the best of companies.”
In a staff announcement of the resignations, Riggs said that for several weeks “we have been working to resolve some confidential management issues in a private and professional manner. I am aware of the added tension created in the newsroom during this period . . . and for that I apologize”
Riggs also declined to discuss reports that the three editors had made an offer for the Times or that outside buyers were interested in acquiring the Walnut Creek-based group.
The latter speculation focused on Central Newspapers Inc. in Indianapolis and Morris Newspaper Corp. in Savannah, Ga. Central president and CEO Frank E. Russell said he could not discuss reports of overtures by his company to buy the Lesher group. Morris president Charles H. Morris was not available.
Among Central’s holdings are the Indianapolis Star and News, Arizona Republic, Phoenix Gazette and the Muncie (Ind.) Star.
Morris’ papers include two in California, the Manteca Bulletin and Newhall Signal.
A San Francisco Chronicle story by Erin Hallissy, a former Lesher staffer, said the three editors reportedly angered Riggs by moving to buy the Times.
She added that “rumors have been rampant for weeks” that the Lesher chain, which includes six weeklies, was on the market.
Hallissy wrote that a high-level Lesher employee, who requested anonymity, said that Haswell, Parker and Porterfield approached the Lesher board of trustees several weeks earlier with a proposal to purchase the Times.
The Porterfields could not be reached for comment.
Riggs announced the appointment of John Armstrong as Lesher’s editor and vice president for news, to replace Haswell. Armstrong was most recently president and publisher of the Escondido (Calif.) Times Advocate, which was recently sold by the Tribune Co. to Howard Publications of Oceanside, Calif.
Armstrong, a former reporter, editor and general executive of Associated Press, said he was “thrilled to get back on the news side.”
He added that he has known Riggs professionally, and as a friend, for a number of years.
“When George said he needed me, I was glad to come in and help out,” Armstrong stated.