The last time the editor of a Twin Cities daily announced his departure was Dec. 15, 2006, when Anders Gyllenhaal unexpectedly left the Star Tribune. Eleven days later, the Star Tribune was sold.
Thursday morning, news broke that Pioneer Press editor Thom Fladung was leaving for Cleveland. Thursday afternoon, word came that the PiPress’s owner, Denver-based MediaNews Group, is looking for a new CEO, a new president, and a new Chief Revenue Officer.
Coincidence? Probably. I haven’t had a chance to ask anyone in power if Fladung’s move is linked to a sudden turn in the Pioneer Press’s future, so even making the historical connection qualifies as speculation. Still, I can’t help wonder what the boardroom shake-up will mean for the St. Paul paper.
MNG’s outgoing CEO, Dean Singleton, was the architect of a fast-growth strategy through borrowing that led to a corporate bankruptcy last year. As promised, it didn’t affect the PiPress’s operations, at least in the sense that the newsroom kept shrinking. In fact, hiring in St. Paul has recently ticked up and the company just extended its labor agreement for six months through January 2012.
As the MediaNews release notes, Singleton will remain as executive board chair to “focus on opportunities to optimize the company’s portfolio of properties and consolidation opportunities in the newspaper industry.”
For three decades, analysts have speculated about a Star Tribune-Pioneer Press “consolidation,” and it hasn’t happened. There are lots of reasons it wouldn’t now, including that neither side sees a big enough upside in buying out the other (assuming either has the financial wherewithal to do so).
Still, MNG and Alden Global Capital, the hedge fund that now has a greater board role, are big on “clusters” of newspapers from which workers can be wrung. As you can see from this map, the Pioneer Press is an island in Minnesota; the closest MNG property is in Michigan.
That was true yesterday, today and will be tomorrow. From the sound of it, Singleton is being removed as an operator, not a strategist, so the guy who would sell or buy hasn’t changed. Neither has the Pioneer Press’s President and Publisher, Guy Gilmore, who will soon find himself with a new boss to go with a new newsroom manager. He may find some new marching orders from the new CEO, and the editor’s leaving may be nothing more than an isolated event. But that’s what we thought the last time, too.