New Louisville pub’s age raises tenure questions

Updated at 1:30 p.m. ET. Newly appointed Courier-Journal publisher Arnold Garson is 67, an age when many Gannett executives have already retired. (Indeed, I believe mandatory retirement for GCI CEOs and board members is 65.) One of my longtime readers — a former newsroom employee who once worked for Garson, and would work for him again — reacted the same way I did when Corporate announced yesterday that he’s moving to Louisville, Ky., from the publisher’s job at the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, S.D.

“The move is a mystery to me,” the reader told me in an e-mail. “I thought he intended to retire in Sioux Falls. Don’t know why he would move unless Gannett is going to sell the paper.”

My reader was likely speculating about GCI’s selling the Argus Leader. But I drew a different conclusion: Perhaps Gannett sent Garson to Louisville as interim publisher, assigned to run the paper while Corporate peddles it to possible buyers.

Now, that would be a tough sale, given the collapse in the market for newspapers over the past year. Still, I’ll speculate on one possible buyer: very well-connected local businessman David Jones, co-founder of healthcare giant Humana Inc. of Louisville. (Jones is a longtime friend of my parents, and he welcomed me to Louisville when I worked at the Courier-Journal in 1996-2000. But I’ve had no contact with him or anyone familiar with his thinking since I left Louisville.) In any case, another reader discounts my scenario, writing in a new comment: “David Jones is too smart to buy into a failing business like the newspaper industry.”

By Gannett’s nomadic-executive standards, Garson had deep roots in Sioux Falls — another reason to wonder about this new move. He’d been publisher there since 1996, and is leaving behind a family retreat where he spent weekends during the summer: a cabin on Iowa’s Lake Okoboji, east of Sioux Falls.

Will Garson buy — or rent?
If I were a Courier-Journal employee, I’d watch to see if Garson buys a home in Louisville — rather than renting one. Here’s why: In Little Rock, Ark., when I worked for the Gannett-owned Arkansas Gazette, we were puzzled when Corporate sent in its third publisher in a desperate attempt to save the failing paper — or so we thought.

Mo Hickey arrived in the spring of 1991. But instead of buying, he rented a condominium. His family stayed behind wherever he was living at the time, and I recall Hickey’s commuting back there on weekends. About six months after he came to Little Rock, we learned the true reason for his posting: Gannett shut down that money-losing paper, selling its presses and other assets to the crosstown competition. About 700 of us lost our jobs, in what I believe was the single-biggest layoff in Gannett’s history.

There are no doubt many Courier-Journal employees who would welcome new ownership. Many staffers there still recall working for the Bingham family, owners of the paper and other media properties until 1986, when they sold to Gannett amid a high-profile dispute among Bingham siblings.

Please post your replies in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, write gannettblog[at]gmail[dot-com]; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.

[Image: today’s Courier-Journal, Newseum]

25 Responses to “New Louisville pub’s age raises tenure questions”

  1. Dutch619m Says:

    Same thing in Gainesville,GA. Brought in a nice old guy from El Paso (can’t remember his name, I was only there 6 months), he had a retirement home in So Fla and was in G’ville just long enogh to sell the place. This was just after Denise Ivey’s tenure in Gainesville.
    We are glad to see that we at least got a real newspaper guy here in Louisville and not a bean counter.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Garson is a real newspaperman of the finest order. And he is a good administrator, too.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    You really think Gannett would sell the newspaper?

  4. Anonymous Says:

    It’s this simple people. If the price is high enough, everything in Gannett is for sale at any given time. The logic of it doesn’t always seem obvious.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Jim,

    When the paper in Arkansas was sold… What happened to everyone’s Pension… Was that an issue? Were they just let go? Severance package?

  6. Anonymous Says:

    This does sound interim, but maybe it has something to do with the Ivey-Henry smashup that kicked them out the executive loop. Ivey is “chairman” but she’s not going to run roughshod over Garson, who is a strong executive leader and a very good newsman, like she has over other execs under her command over the years.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    Just hoping Garson takes a look at the “information center” structure and the rest of the paper and starts asking some tough questions, such as:
    Do you really need all those managers managing the managers who manage the editors who manage the reporters?
    Could productivity be increased with fewer people “thinking great thoughts” and more people doing great work?
    Why are the parking lots ringed with dozens and dozens of spots “reserved for executive parking?” Do we really need that many executives?
    Ahhh. A man can dream…

  8. Dutch619m Says:

    Ask the few remaining oldtimers at the C-J how many millions of dollars from their “over-funded” plan became an asset.

  9. rmichem Says:

    The only reason Al bought the "Argus Leader," was an ego trip> He wanted the paper, were he use to work> To be the boss of his former boss> Inso far as Argus Leader is concern, it would be sold, just to get rid of the shadow of A.N.

  10. Anonymous Says:

    David Jones is too smart to buy into a failing business like the newspaper industry.

  11. Anonymous Says:

    This item is savvy and has the ring of truth…

  12. Dutch619m Says:

    With proper management, dumping the ugly web-site, charge for the website, return to LOCAL coverage,and fix the mess in the 4 year old pressroom where it can be profitable in commercial work could make C-J attractable. Who ever got it would have to understand his or her local community. We can no longer afford to give away the news that we gather. I would refer you to the winner of the Great Arkansas newspaper war. His circ is up. People paying for subscriptions to website. Maybe that’s why he won.

  13. Anonymous Says:

    At age 67 Arnie Garson has more passion and energy then men and women half his age. Anyone worried about his age should spend one day with him. When the day is over you can go home and fall into bed thankful you don’t have to keep up with him the next day.

    Louisville, you gonna love this guy!

  14. Anonymous Says:

    He may have been brought in to make the ugly cuts that will have to be made and then slither on. GCI will then dispatch a replacement without the stain of the layoffs. It is not like Gannett to sell off properties which are part of Interstate clusters (Indy, Cincy, Louaville, Nashvegas) but unlike the other markets, Gannett does not own the Ky. suburbans and it is by no means a captive market. They fight the weeklies with zoned nabes. Cleaning up the top heavy news mess in Louisville and getting more boots on the ground will require lots of attention.

  15. Anonymous Says:

    i love news hounds longing for the days of paid content

    Wasnt AOL building a ‘walled garden’ of hyper premium content on the net – you know SI, Time, et. al.

    How’s that working for them?

    “charge for the website”? – even porn had to give up on the paid content model

  16. Jim Hopkins Says:

    @11:33 a.m. wrote: “When the paper in Arkansas was sold… What happened to everyone’s Pension… Was that an issue? Were they just let go? Severance package?”

    As I recall — and this only makes sense — the Gazette pension wasn’t affected. Many older employees remained covered by the plan run by the previous owners. Newer employees, like me, fell under the Gannett pension plan. I’m pretty sure I received credit for the four years I worked at the Gazette, when I cashed out of Gannett’s plan earlier this year after getting my USA Today buyout.

    We received severance pay, too. Because the shutdown affected so many employees, Gannett had to pay us 60 days’ pay under the federal “WARN” Act, which covered mass layoffs. We received the 60 days’ pay in lieu of Gannett’s giving us 60 days’ notice, which the law required. Employees with more tenure than I had also received money for each year of service.

  17. Anonymous Says:

    How does the fact that as of this week St. Cloud reports to Reno, not Sioux Falls, work into the equation?

  18. Anonymous Says:

    the guy they brought in to run honolulu from tiny Guam is 60 something too…and he’s renting a condo while continuing to build his new house in Guam….short term?

  19. Anonymous Says:

    When the recent moves with regional vice presidents shook down, St. Cloud continued to report to Sioux Falls while everyone else shifted around in the consolidations. I believe it had to do with the fact that the publisher in St. Cloud, Bill Albrecht, is formerly of the Sioux Falls ad staff, director I believe. Nothing sinister likely happening there – just one fella who got to keep reporting to those who helped pave his path. And, now he doesn’t, or can’t with Arnie out the door.

  20. Anonymous Says:

    Jim,
    You say you’re pretty sure you got credit for the four years spent in Arkansas. Got any plans to check it out for sure?
    Thanks.

  21. Jim Hopkins Says:

    @7:39 a.m.: I might. But I suspect that in cashing out of the pension plan earlier this year, I may have waived any rights to question the company’s math — a lesson for anyone about to sign Gannett documents.

  22. Anonymous Says:

    Jim

    The odds of Gannett selling the Courier-Journal are slim to none. A) They have a COE in Louisville … sure, it could be moved, but at what expense? B) They’re installing a consolidated CCI editorial system in Louisville, with Asheville and Greenville running off it. Again, it could be moved to a different site, but the expense would be huge. C) The Courier-Journal is a pretty big revenue source, and they are still getting tax breaks on the press that was installed in 2003.

    Garson might be a short-timer, but Gannett isn’t selling the Courier-Journal.

  23. Jim Hopkins Says:

    All: @10:29 pm’s reference to “COE” is to the so-called Center of Excellence, Gannett’s name for the consolidated customer service centers that now serve the newspapers’ circulation, etc., problems. There are at least two: in Louisville and in Tulsa, Okla. I think there was to be a third one, perhaps at Greenville, S.C., but I’m not sure whether it was ever completed. Does anyone know?

  24. Anonymous Says:

    There is no COE in Greenville.

  25. Anonymous Says:

    Three COE’s exist – Louisville, Tulsa, Greenville. All are fully operational at this time.

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