Posts Tagged ‘Mark Zieman’

Talk about continuing the youth movement at The Kansas City Star.


The woman who will become the new publisher later this month is 40.

She succeeds Mark Zieman, who was 47 when he was named publisher three years ago.

And…Mike Fannin, the editor, is only 44.


The new publisher of the McClatchy-owned paper is Mi-Ai, Parrish, who has been publisher of the company-owned Idaho Statesman since July 2006.

Parrish, whose first name is pronounced MEE-uh, had been deputy managing editor for features and visuals at the Minneapolis Star Tribune before being tapped for the Idaho post.

I sure hope that Parrish works out, and I wish her the very best. But putting a 40-year-old person with five years of publishing experience — especially small-market experience — looks like a rather big roll of the dice to me.

On the plus side, reporter Mark Davis reports in a story on The Star’s website that Parrish led the Statesman’s effort to “transform and diversify business operations, introduce new print and digital products, grow digital traffic and revenue while improving the core newspaper and enhancing its reputation for quality journalism.”

This year, for example, the Statesman rolled out a new product called Business Insider, a weekly business-to-business magazine. And in 2008, the Statesman was named a Pulitzer Prize finalist in the breaking news category for its coverage of events triggered by the men’s room arrest of former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig in Minneapolis.

But look at some statistics.

The Star has an average Monday-Friday circulation of 210,000 and a Sunday circulation of about 300,000. By comparison, the Statesman, in Boise, has an average weekday circulation of about 50,000 and Sunday circulation of about 73,000. (Sunday circulation has been up slightly the last two years, while daily circulation has declined each of the last four years.)

So, The Star is about four times larger than the Statesman. That’s quite a jump.

Parrish also will be tested right off the bat with her choices for top managers. Among other things, she’ll have to decide whether to keep vice presidents such as Editor Mike Fannin and advertising executive Tim Doty in place.

On the digital side, her youth should work to her advantage because that appears to be where the future lies for newspapers. But her youth could work against her on the personnel side, unless she gets some very good advisers.

On that front, my recommendation would be that, in the newsroom, she turn to long-time managing editor Steve Shirk, a tried and true leader at The Star for more than 35 years.

Steve’s an old guy — about 60. He’s got the wisdom and the temperament to help a new publisher make a safe jump from a small pond into the churning waters of the Lake of the Ozarks.

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Congratulations are in order to Mark Zieman, who has been promoted from KC Star publisher to vice president of operations for parent company McClatchy Co.

Today, I want to talk about his leadership and also about the competition that is about to take place to replace him.

Zieman, 50, has had a very successful, upward-bound, 25-year career at The Star. The paper apparently has continued to do well financially during Zieman’s three-year watch as publisher, despite the bottom falling out of the newspaper industry.

I haven’t liked everything Zieman has done at The Star, but, in my opinion, he has earned this opportunity to prove or disprove himself at a higher level. He inherited a successful enterprise from previous publishers, including the late James H. Hale, and he has managed to hold it together, at least financially.

He has held it together almost entirely through cost-cutting, however. There’s less of the paper, literally, than there used to be, and there are far fewer employees, including quite a few valuable editorial employees.

I said that I haven’t liked everything Zieman has done. What bothered me most was that when the layoffs began three years ago, Zieman donned rose-colored glasses with each round of layoffs and issued statement after statement about how better times were just around the corner. That went on until earlier this year, when he struck a note more of resignation and hope, instead of certainty, about light at the end of the tunnel.

When I wrote about his cheery, public position, I said that I was losing confidence in him as publisher. That was probably an overstatement, although I’m sure that most, if not all, of the employees who have been laid off would express a similar sentiment. Also, as a retired reporter and assignment editor at The Star, I was looking at it through the eyes of someone who could have experienced the same fate, had I not gotten out two years before the axe started falling. (It was just plain luck that got me out the door, I have to admit, not prescience.)

Now, Zieman is going to be under more pressure than ever. He will oversee 14 daily papers, including The Star, in several states. McClatchy paid way too much — $4.6 billion — for the Knight Ridder papers in 2006, and they may never be able to pay off the debt they took on to swing the deal.

Last year, a Morningstar analyst wrote, “Our fair value estimate on McClatchy’s shares is $0.” (For the record, it’s about $2.75  per share now.)

The analyst said he believed that the balance eventually would tip from stockholders’ interests to creditors’ interests and that stockholders would be left empty-handed.

So, that’s the spare meal that Zieman will sit down to at McClatchy headquarters in Sacramento.

CEO Gary Pruitt and other top executives undoubtedly will look to Zieman for fresh ideas on digging out of deep holes. He will face expectations, probably, to devise plans to cut costs and somehow generate new revenue, perhaps through imaginative uses of the web.

So, I wish him luck. He’s definitely going to need it, and I think we can look for that graying hair to lose what is left of its dark luster within a few years — if McClatchy lasts that long.


Now, back at the ranch…several Star vice presidents, certainly would like to be considered for the publisher’s job. Among them could be Mike Fannin, editor; Chris Christian, v.p for circulation; Chris Piwowarek, v.p. for human resources; and Miriam Pepper, v.p. of the editorial page.

I think McClatchy will look closely at the prospect of naming a woman as publisher, which would guarantee Piwowarek (pronounced pee-va-vorek) and Pepper a close look. However, I think all of the people mentioned above are long shots for the following reasons.

Christian and Piwowarek because their kingdoms are relatively narrow. Pepper because her background is on the editorial side. Fannin because most of his background is in sports and also because it has come to light since he was named editor in 2008 that he has two d.u.i convictions and a 1994 misdemeanor assault conviction in Texas, where he formerly worked.

Another long shot, from the newsroom, would be managing editor Steve Shirk, who has provided steady and confident leadership in every post he has held in his approximate 35-year career at the paper. Working against him, however, is the fact that, like Pepper, all his experience is on the editorial side.

Without completely ruling out an inside promotion, I tend to think that McClatchy will bring in someone from outside. I think they will promote a current publisher at a smaller paper in the chain.

That’s what they recently did in Lexington, Ky., at the Lexington Herald-Leader. There, Rufus M. Friday, president and publisher of the Tri-City Herald in eastern Washington, will replace long-time Herald-Leader publisher Tim Kelly, who is retiring at the end of this month.

I think McClatchy will want to continue planting seeds of hope with its current publishers, on the outside chance that the company will find its way out of the long tunnel.

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I hate to say this, but I am losing confidence in Mark Zieman as publisher — and ultimate leader — at The Kansas City Star. 

My colleague John Landsberg of Bottom Line Communications reported yesterday that there will be another round of layoffs at The Star. I can’t keep track of how many rounds there have been in the last few years, but I think this will be at least the fifth.

This latest news is particularly maddening and frustrating not because The Star’s staff apparently will get even thinner, but because of Zieman’s optimistic tone when he announced the previous round of layoffs last September.

Back then he said The Star was approaching the end of the year “financially strong” and that the industry was at a “turning point.”

To me, that not only was irresponsible, it was misleading and showed Zieman was indulging in wishful thinking. While such words might buoy employee morale temporarily, the words make it all that much harder for employees to swallow another round of layoffs. The real danger of statements like that is that they spread a sense of false hope and paint the publisher as someone trying to buy time before something even worse happens.

Employees of every organization like to hear words of encouragement and hope from their leaders, but, more important, they want a candid assessment of where things stand. Zieman has failed miserably on that front, not just in September but with unrealistically optimistic words with each round of layoffs.

So, now, unfortunately, it’s like the boy yelling fire in the theater. Except it’s the reverse because there is a fire and Zieman keeps trying to convince his troops it’s just about extinguished, when it’s obviously out of control. 

I mentioned that something big could happen. Like what? Well, how about a decision to drop the print edition several days a week. That seems like the next likely step to me.

Zieman probably won’t admit it until it happens, because he’s obviously reluctant to take off the rose-colored glasses. But it could easily happen, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see one or two weekday papers — maybe Monday and Tuesday — dropped within a year or two.

Several papers around the country have already dropped some or all print editions, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch took a step in that direction last year, when it dropped single-copy sales — in boxes and convenience stores — of the Saturday paper. It still puts out a Saturday paper, but it goes only to subscribers.

In reporting the story last October, the Riverfront Times, the St. Louis alternative paper, asked Editor Arnie Robbins how long it would be before the Post-Dispatch would cease putting out a print publication altogether.

“I’m not feeling particularly clairvoyant this morning,” Robbins replied. “But I think in the next 10 years you could see the elimination of the weekday paper, with the Sunday still coming out in print. The rest of the week would be online or delivered through niche products and phone and e-reader apps. We’re working on a few of those projects right now that we’re excited about.'”

Well, let’s credit Robbins with some degree of candor. Ten years very likely is an overestimation of how much longer the daily P-D will survive, but at least he doesn’t have blinders on.

Now, compare that statement with what Zieman told employees in the September memo announcing that round of layoffs:

 “I know that weathering this recession has been exceptionally hard for each of you. But we will begin next year with a steadily improving revenue trend. We are posting record online traffic and revenue, we remain the dominant media company in our region, our presses and readership metrics are among the best in the country and our news products are recognized nationally for their journalistic excellence. The Star won’t die, but this recession will.”

Metrics. Journalistic excellence. The Star won’t die. Uh huh.

This is really a desperate situation in my view. I think The Star’s owner, McClatchy Co., is headed for bankruptcy.

As I reported in June, Morningstar, the independent investment and stock research company, had a grim outlook for the company. An article in Morningstar StockInvestor, a periodical available to Morningstar members by subscription, said this:

“Our fair value estimate on McClatchy shares is $0.”

Are you listening, Mark? That’s zero. Nothing. Worthless shares for the stockholders.

At the time, McClatchy’s stock was selling at $4.28 a share. The stock closed Friday at $4.89 a share, but that’s no indication of a significant upswing. Sprint, as difficult as its situation is, has a much better chance of surviving than McClatchy does.

The company paid too much for KnightRidder in 2006 and bought the KR papers at precisely the wrong time.

Do you remember when Payless Cashways senior managers, led by then-chief executive officer David Stanley (fondly known to some as Minnesota Dave because he flew back to his home in Minneapolis every weekend) took the company private in 1988? They paid too much ($900 million); the company muddled along for about 10 years and then rolled over and died.  

McClatchy, too, is going to roll over and die, I believe…or get bought out for a song. I can hear the late “Dandy” Don Meredith singing from heaven, “Turn out the lights; the party’s over.”   

And what will happen with the papers McClatchy owns? I don’t know. But it isn’t a bright picture, and I hope Zieman doesn’t weigh in with more irrationally optimistic statements when he officially announces the newest round of layoffs.

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