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Herald publisher will resign


MrAndMrsFish

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Jes?s D?az Jr. will resign today as president of the Miami Herald Media Co. and publisher of The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald.

 

The action comes amid a widening controversy over payments accepted by some El Nuevo Herald journalists for participating in U.S.-government broadcasts on Radio Mart? and TV Mart?.

 

The move, which ends a challenging and sometimes tumultuous 14 months as head of one of South Florida's most visible and influential institutions, is effective immediately. David Landsberg, who served as general manager, takes over today as company president and publisher of both newspapers.

 

In a letter to readers, D?az said the company is reversing course and will grant ''amnesty'' to two El Nuevo Herald reporters and a freelance contributor who were dismissed Sept. 7 when The Miami Herald reported that they received payments under contracts with Radio Mart? and TV Mart?.

 

He also said that an internal probe determined that six other employees of the Spanish-language El Nuevo Herald received payments from Radio Mart? and TV Mart? during the past five years. No disciplinary action will be taken against them.

 

None of the nine or anyone else at the company can accept money from the U.S. government-run broadcasters in the future, D?az said, and conflict-of-interest policies will be strengthened throughout the company.

 

REVERSED ORDERS

 

The internal probe, he said, suggested that the circumstances surrounding the journalists' actions were less definitive than he and other managers originally believed. That, he said, required a reversal in the company's response.

 

''While I still believe that the acceptance of such payments by the nine journalists was a breach of widely accepted principles of journalistic ethics that violated the trust of our readers, our policies prohibiting such behavior may have been ambiguously communicated, inconsistently applied and widely misunderstood over many years in the El Nuevo Herald newsroom,'' D?az wrote.

 

''It has been determined that in fairness we should extend an amnesty to all involved and enforce our policies more forcefully and consistently in the future,'' he wrote.

 

Four of the six newly identified El Nuevo Herald employees said their activities at Radio Mart? and TV Mart? -- broadcast operations that attempt to undermine the Cuban communist government of Fidel Castro -- had been approved by Carlos Casta?eda, an executive editor of El Nuevo Herald who died in 2002.

 

The two employees who already were terminated said some supervisors knew of their work for the government broadcasters, though the two did not recall specifically discussing payments. It could not be determined Monday night if they would accept the invitations to return.

 

D?az indicated that he believed the series of events, which have roiled the newsrooms of both newspapers and ignited heated debate in the Cuban-American community, left him in an untenable position.

 

''I realize and regret that the events of the past three weeks have created an environment that no longer allows me to lead our newspapers in a manner most beneficial for our newspapers, our readers and our community,'' D?az wrote. ``Therefore, I informed our parent company of my intention to resign as soon as my replacement could be found.''

 

D?az, 45, was not in his office Monday, though he made his letter available in advance for preparation of this article. The full text of the letter is being published today in The Miami Herald and in El Nuevo Herald.

 

This article was assigned and edited by Miami Herald Executive Editor Tom Fiedler. It was not seen by D?az in advance.

 

Two top executives of The McClatchy Co., which owns El Nuevo Herald and The Miami Herald, flew to South Florida on Monday and plan to meet with employees today.

 

''We hope that people recognize that this is an opportunity for a new start that, among other things, will provide a clear enunciation of a very clear policy that absolutely will be applied going forward,'' said Howard Weaver, McClatchy's vice president, news.

 

McClatchy, based in Sacramento, Calif., acquired the two Miami papers in June, when it bought their parent company, Knight Ridder Inc. Weaver was accompanied on the trip by Frank Whittaker, McClatchy's vice president, operations.

 

'We were sorry to accept Jes?s' resignation, but we respect his decision and understand that he wishes to move his professional life in a different direction,'' Whittaker said.

 

''We felt ourselves very fortunate to have David Landsberg available to step in as publisher,'' he said. ``He's an extremely talented executive with a deep affection for and knowledge of Miami and South Florida.''

 

Still, the latest development seemed certain to trigger another stage of a controversy that has embroiled the newspapers in journalistic, ethical and -- in some cases -- cultural disputes.

 

It began about three weeks ago when The Miami Herald reported that several South Florida journalists -- including two veteran writers for El Nuevo Herald, Pablo Alfonso and Wilfredo Cancio Isla, who often write about Cuba, and freelance reporter Olga Connor -- accepted regular payments from the U.S. government-run broadcasters over the past five years.

 

The Miami Herald reported that since 2001 Alfonso was paid about $179,000, Connor received about $71,000 and Cancio received almost $15,000. D?az swiftly dismissed the two El Nuevo Herald writers and severed the company's relationship with Connor.

 

That decision triggered outrage among many in the Cuban-American community who responded by canceling subscriptions, urging an advertiser boycott and attacking D?az, Miami Herald journalists and the newspapers' editors in letters, e-mails and on other media.

 

Many critics, including some in the El Nuevo Herald newsroom, contended that the actions taken by D?az were too harsh and too hasty, especially considering the public nature of the journalists' broadcast work and a style of advocacy journalism sometimes practiced by Spanish-language newspapers.

 

El Nuevo Herald later reported that some journalists for U.S. news organizations also were paid by another U.S. government agency, the Voice of America, and quoted a government spokesman suggesting that a double standard was being applied to those working for Radio Mart? and TV Mart?.

 

Some in The Miami Herald newsroom and several journalism ethicists quoted in the original story supported the terminations and said the actions of the El Nuevo Herald writers violated commonly accepted standards guiding journalists in avoiding conflicts of interest.

 

McClatchy executives Weaver and Whittaker said the decisions to fire the staffers, offer amnesty and take no new action against the El Nuevo Herald staffers were made by D?az and his local management team, though McClatchy corporate managers were supportive along the way.

 

'It is a sign of solid leadership when someone is able to look at new information and say, `We have to change our minds,' '' Weaver said. ``I would applaud Jes?s and his senior team in reaching these decisions.''

 

During his relatively brief tenure, D?az shepherded the company's employees through the transition from Knight Ridder to McClatchy and through several hurricanes that wreaked havoc on personal lives and on newspaper production schedules.

 

Like publishers of nearly all big-city newspapers, he also struggled with fundamental and rapid changes in the business that are driving readers and advertisers away from newsprint and toward the Internet -- challenges that now will confront Landsberg.

 

SCHOOLED IN DADE

 

Landsberg, 44, has served as the Miami Herald Media Co.'s general manager since July 2005. He previously served as vice president of advertising, as chief financial officer and in other financial roles since 1984. Raised in Coral Gables, he has a master's degree in business administration from the University of Miami, is married and has three young daughters.

 

''For me, being able to help lead these great papers and our media company into the next era is the challenge and the opportunity of a lifetime,'' Landsberg said in a news release prepared by McClatchy.

 

D?az, in response to an e-mailed question about his plans, wrote: ``I plan to seek an opportunity that will present me with the prospect of achieving my professional aspiration of becoming the CEO of a company.''

 

Born in Havana, he grew up in Atlanta, worked as an accountant, joined The Miami Herald in 1993 as vice president and chief financial officer, left three years later, then returned as general manager in 2002 and succeeded Alberto Ibarg?en as publisher in July 2005. He is married and has one daughter.

 

''We did some outstanding journalistic work over the last year and I will dearly miss the ability to encourage and support such work directly,'' D?az wrote at the close of his letter.

 

''I wish our employees well as they continue to serve the South Florida community through the difficult task of putting out two world-class newspapers,'' he wrote. ``It has been an honor to serve you.''

 

 

 

 

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