(Fred Weinberg) – Two of the finest journalists it has ever been my privilege to be in the same town with had their job descriptions changed abruptly last week and the speculation is that Harry Reid or his friends somehow had something to do with it.
Sherm Fredericks has stepped down as the publisher of the Las Vegas Review Journal and as CEO of the parent company which is owned by the Stephens Company of Arkansas and Tom Mitchell has been moved from his position as editor of the paper to the position of opinion editor.
Now I cannot tell you for sure that Harry Reid is not able to convince one of the premier investment banks in the Southwest, Stephens Company, to make personnel changes in its investments, but I doubt it.
For one thing Harry Reid really doesn’t have much that Warren Stephens needs.
Guys like Reid come and go. They are hired help to people like Stephens, who is the third generation to run the company founded by his grandfather in 1933.
A more likely reason for the change is that Fredericks suffered through both a prostate and a heart bypass operation last summer and, maybe, just maybe that changed his perspective on life.
That coupled with the fact that this is the most challenging financial time in the history of the newspaper business and it’s possible you might see why a formerly hard charging executive may well want to slow down.
In fact, it’s more likely that this decision was made some time ago and held off until after the election so that it would not affect the coverage which the Reid camp detested so much.
As for Mitchell, we can only guess that new publishers may want to bring in new editors. They can’t think too poorly of him since he’s still employed by the company. If he had upset them that much, he would be unemployed.
These types of changes are never simple and often interpreted at the convenience of the person—like certain blowhards at the Las Vegas Sun—who is doing the interpreting.
Will there be a change in the personality of the Review Journal?
Will it all of a sudden become the Daily Worker like the Las Vegas Sun?
Only if it wants to lose its readers in droves which is to say that such a change is unlikely.
The fact is that the newspaper has been a well-run, tightly edited example of what a major metro daily newspaper should be. Under Fredericks it never hesitated to take a position it felt was correct and was never afraid of any particular pressure.
Although we have no information as to its financial health, if it is struggling it is only because of the general economic environment of the community in which it is located.
All of this is a long way of saying that the rampant speculation fueled by the pro-Reid forces that his re-election is responsible for these personnel changes is a stretch at best and a fantasy at worst.
A bigger question is the future of daily print journalism in the first place.
Nobody really knows the future of the printed product, but with tablets such as the iPad selling like hotcakes, it’s only a matter of time before electronic editions overtake printed editions. The question is whether or not advertisers will be willing to pay the same price or at least prices relative to what the new costs are.
Already, ebooks are overtaking hardcover sales in the publishing industry.
Given the fact that the new CEO of the Review Journal’s parent company and the new publisher are both from the business side as opposed to the journalism side of the business, this could be Stephens’ move to try and prepare for the future of a challenged business.
All of that said, Fredericks and Mitchell have nothing to be ashamed of and plenty to be proud of.
(Mr. Weinberg publishes the Penny Press Weekly)