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For week ended December 05, 1999 Posted 24 Feb 2001

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Mormon CEO blamed for 'rookie' mistake (A Costly Rookie Mistake)

Summarized by Kent Larsen

Mormon CEO blamed for 'rookie' mistake (A Costly Rookie Mistake)
American Journalism Review Dec99 B2
By Rem Rieder

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA -- Times-Mirror CEO Mark WIlles is under fire from the journalists at the company's Los Angeles Times and elsewhere, who blame a recent embarrassing deal on the publisher Willes chose to succeed him at the Times. Journalists say that the deal represents a conflict of interest, and wouldn't have happened if Willes or the publisher, Kathryn M. Downing, had any experience working with newspapers.

Willes, a member of the LDS Church and nephew of Church president Gordon B. Hinckley, came to Times-Mirror in 1995 from the outside, after a career as a packaged foods executive at General Mills. He came to the Times intending to shake up the newspaper business, and use marketing techniques from packaged goods to sell newspapers. He also said he intended to "blow up the wall" between the business and editorial staffs of the newspaper. Journalists countered that the wall was there to prevent conflicts of interest for journalists.

Now Downing has gotten the paper into exactly the kind of conflict that the wall is meant to avoid. Without telling the editorial staff, Downing cut a deal with the Staples Center, Los Angeles' new downtown sports arena. The Times produced a massive special issue of its Sunday magazine focusing on the center under the deal, and split the advertising revenue with the center. The advertising split troubled journalists because it made it appear that their coverage of the center was not objective.

In this editorial, Reider, editor and senior vice president of American Journalism Review, says that Willes and Downing made a "rookie mistake," an error that any new journalist would have known not to make. He quotes Willes as admitting as much, "This is exactly a consequence," he said, "of having people in the publisher's job who don't have experience in newspapers. If you don't have people with experience, you'll have people who don't understand the issues until they're made to understand the issues."

Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 Kent Larsen · Privacy Information