By Michael E. Miller
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Munzenrieder
By Sabrina Rodriguez
By Michael E. Miller
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Luther Campbell
By Kyle Munzenrieder
The electronic message that flashed across staff computers at the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald on the morning of Tuesday, August 4, created an instant stir throughout the papers' bayside headquarters. The tersely worded missive announced a meeting for all employees of the Miami Herald Publishing Company, set for 2:00 p.m. in the third-floor cafeteria. "I don't recall ever having a building-wide staff meeting," says reporter Martin Merzer, an eighteen-year veteran at the Herald. But it wasn't only the unprecedented gathering that generated intense interest. The reason for the meeting was left unstated, and the directive came from company president Joe Natoli, not publisher Dave Lawrence. "The fact that it was Natoli who sent the message, and not Dave, told us something was up," recalls another long-time Herald journalist.
And there was context. In recent years respected publications such as Time magazine and the New York Times have described the Miami Herald as a newspaper in decline. And in the months leading up to the meeting, the paper had been beset by signs of poor financial health; troubling rumors -- including the purported imminent sale of the Herald and El Nuevo -- had become common currency in both newsrooms. For many staffers the question wasn't whether the Herald was flagging, but if the downward trend could be reversed.
"It has felt like a roller-coaster ride for the past couple of years, and everyone is yearning for stability," says fifteen-year reporter Andres Viglucci. "For a long time [parent company] Knight Ridder has trained us to think we're a bad child." In light of recent investigative successes, he contends, that's a bum rap. But uncovering voter fraud and corruption in county contracts has seemed to count for little. What has concerned Knight Ridder executives and company shareholders were the numbers, and they didn't look good.
According to Michael Beebe, a financial analyst with Goldman Sachs in New York, the Herald's advertising revenue has trailed several percentage points behind the industry average, which itself has been sluggish. Though it ranks among the top 25 dailies in the nation in circulation, those numbers have dropped as well. Sunday circulation totaled 492,235 at the end of March 1997. At the same date this year, that number had fallen by more than 10,000, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.
Staffers were also aware of a Knight Ridder mandate for new financial goals at the Herald. Not satisfied with a profit margin that industry analysts estimated to be 19 percent (such figures for Knight Ridder's 31 daily papers are not public), corporation executives demanded an increase to 25 percent in three years. (Knowledgeable sources say that target has since been reduced to 22 percent.)
Then this past April corporate chairman and CEO Tony Ridder made a surprise announcement: Knight Ridder would leave Miami, its headquarters for 24 years, and relocate to California's Silicon Valley. (Ridder spent 22 years working in the region at Knight Ridder's San Jose Mercury News.) Miami civic leaders begged Knight Ridder to reconsider, but to no avail.
By 2:00 p.m. that Tuesday, more than 300 employees packed the cafeteria and spilled out into a hallway. At a podium stood Frank McComas, senior vice president of operations for Knight Ridder; Clark Hoyt, Knight Ridder vice president for news; Herald publisher David Lawrence; and El Nuevo publisher Alberto IbargYen. After a brief introduction Lawrence approached the podium and, before a stunned crowd, calmly announced his resignation. "The economic choices are painful," he said, "but good people will make the decisions." The employees rose and applauded when he finished speaking.
Lawrence then turned to introduce the man who would immediately succeed him, 54-year-old Alberto IbargYen, a relative newcomer to Miami who had been publisher of El Nuevo Herald for just three years. To most of the crowd, he was a complete stranger. The two papers are on adjacent floors, but little communication passes between them.
IbargYen (pronounced ee-bar-gwen), tall and solidly built, tried to reassure his new employees. He pledged fealty to revered journalistic canons. "I believe ... in journalism that makes a difference," he said, "journalism that is fair and balanced, thorough and unflinching." But he alluded to the need to boost revenues, and fast. "This business has to grow," he stressed.
As staffers filed out of the cafeteria, many wondered what pain might accompany such growth.
A visitor to El Nuevo Herald's newsroom during the past three years would most likely have seen Alberto IbargYen behind a glass wall, pacing his office while talking into a telephone headset. The publisher's energy is legendary.
One typical weekday evening shortly before IbargYen moved from his El Nuevo office to the Herald, his assistant poked her head in the door to say she was calling it a day. It was after 6:00 p.m., but the publisher couldn't resist teasing her. "What, another half-day?" he asked. For IbargYen it probably was.
Since his arrival from New York in December 1995, he has managed to find time not only for the demands of El Nuevo Herald but also for a full life outside the office. In addition to having attracted media attention (from Miami Today and Miami Business to the Wall Street Journal and the Columbia Journalism Review), IbargYen seems to have effortlessly inserted himself into Miami's cultural and business milieu. He is chairman of the Florida Philharmonic Governing Council and a member of the elite Hispanic business group Mesa Redonda. Those who know him well say he is intelligent and charming. They also agree he is not afraid to make controversial decisions.
It was only fourteen years ago that he entered journalism, after a career in corporate and business law. For his first eleven years in newspapers IbargYen worked exclusively on the business side of the industry. Former colleagues, including professional adversaries from those days, speak well of him. "He certainly is a class guy," says John McDonald, who is now with the daily Orange County Register in California but who faced him as an editorial union representative in labor negotiations at New York Newsday, where IbargYen worked before coming to Miami.
Characterized by those who know him as a strong and independent personality, IbargYen joined El Nuevo as the paper floundered in the throes of an identity crisis. During his tenure, approximately one-third of El Nuevo's staff departed. "The newspaper has changed," he says by way of explaining the turnover. "Change doesn't happen without a lot of turbulence."
In 1976 Knight Ridder launched El Herald, a Spanish-language pullout section that was primarily a translation of the Miami Herald designed to attract the area's burgeoning Hispanic population. Eleven years later Knight Ridder revamped the paper, changed its name to El Nuevo Herald, and added staff and local coverage in a tentative step toward independence. Still, it depended for much of its news on stories lifted from the Herald and remained an insert within the English-language paper.
By the time IbargYen arrived, staffers at El Nuevo say, it had been adrift, without even a publisher, for months. "There was a climate of general discontent," says a current editor. The new publisher set out to give the paper focus. He launched a weekly business supplement similar to the Miami Herald's "Business Monday." He had the Friday entertainment supplement "Viernes" distributed separately and for free. Latin American coverage intensified. Cuba news largely moved off the front page and into a special section inside the paper. Blaring headlines began lending a tabloid tone to lead stories. All the while, IbargYen's compass stayed fixed on the bottom line, a concern forged from his painful experience as a participant in the premature death of New York Newsday.
IbargYen's greatest achievement came on January 5 of this year, when El Nuevo hit the racks as a separate newspaper. Five months later he introduced home delivery. The changes came after years of debate that pitted IbargYen against his predecessor, 56-year-old Lawrence, who had argued that a separate paper would divide the community. "The whole Dave Lawrence shtick has always been 'We are one big happy family,'" says Jay Ducassi, a former Herald editor who is now with the Miami Daily Business Review. "If you try to be everything to everybody, you end up being nothing to nobody."
It would seem, on the face of it, that if anyone could navigate the diverse, often contentious, ethnic and cultural waters of Miami, it would be IbargYen. His appointment in August as Miami Herald publisher was hailed by many Hispanics as long-overdue recognition of their numbers and economic strength. IbargYen is the first Hispanic publisher in the Herald's 95-year history. (Knight Ridder's only other Hispanic publisher was IbargYen's predecessor at El Nuevo, Roberto Suarez.)
Part of IbargYen's success, friends say, is his ability to move easily between both worlds. "He put on the camouflage of the adversary, the New York WASP establishment," recalls a friend from New York.
His heritage is all Hispanic: IbargYen's father is Cuban; his mother is Puerto Rican. In fact, his background closely mirrors that of Miami-Dade's, where the largest cultural group within the Hispanic community is Cuban and the third largest is Puerto Rican.
IbargYen's Cuban paternal grandmother was widowed young. With four children to raise, she left the western city Pinar del Rio for Depression-era Philadelphia, where she had friends. "She really didn't speak English when she came, but she made a go of it," IbargYen recalls. "She was soft and caring, absolutely devoted, but also determined. She was a cubanaza [extremely Cuban], that's what she was."
IbargYen's father was working in Puerto Rico for a U.S. pharmaceutical company when he met his future wife, who was from Ponce de Leon. Alberto, the first of five children, was born on the island, though the family left when he was eight years old. The rest of his boyhood was spent in South Orange, New Jersey, a suburb of New York City. After finishing college at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, IbargYen joined the Peace Corps. He spent two years in the jungles of Venezuela, then another three as program and training director for Peace Corps programs in Colombia. He abandoned a plan to join the Foreign Service in favor of returning to the United States to obtain a law degree.
After completing law school in 1974, he helped establish a legal aid center in Hartford, Connecticut, where for a time, he says, he was the only Hispanic lawyer. He named the agency ("rather grandly," he concedes today) the Puerto Rican Center for Justice; it was part legal clinic, part social-service agency, part community outreach center.
Three years later IbargYen left the center to serve as a deputy general counsel of Connecticut National Bank in Hartford; he then started a commercial law practice. Recognized for his legal work, he was invited to sit on the board of a charitable foundation run by the city's newspaper, the Hartford Courant.
Through his contacts on the board, IbargYen in 1984 joined the paper, owned by the Times Mirror Company, as senior vice president for finance and administration. In 1986 he accepted a position as vice president for human resources, legal, and labor relations for New York Newsday, which Times Mirror had recently launched as a spinoff of its Long Island paper, Newsday. "It was an incredibly exciting thing to invent a newspaper," he remembers, "to go into the most competitive [media] market in the country."
The paper pulled together an ethnically diverse staff, including many award-winning journalists, to cover one of the great cities of the world. Newsday's efforts to combine the quality of the New York Times with the accessibility of the more proletarian New York Post won it the sobriquet "tabloid in a tutu."
Times Mirror seemed committed to conquering New York, and IbargYen revels in recounting how the paper would throw dozens of staffers at a big story. The camaraderie and shared sense of mission at Newsday united the editorial and the business sides of the paper, he says. And while he had no responsibility for editorial decisions, he did have a hand in hiring reporters and counted several as friends. But despite winning journalistic accolades, New York Newsday hemorrhaged nearly $100 million in a ten-year battle for readership.
Just as it finally seemed to be on the verge of profitability, a new CEO took the helm of Times Mirror. Mark Willes had come from General Mills, determined to boost profits for the sprawling media conglomerate. Many at New York Newsday braced for cutbacks, reporters and editors recall. But no one suspected that Willes had already decided to kill the paper. "We did not believe -- we, being the managers of New York Newsday -- that Times Mirror would shut us down," recalls IbargYen.
Suddenly he found himself a reluctant executioner, forced to lay off hundreds of employees. "It was 876 people, not that the number is burned into my mind," he says dryly. "To say that we were going to shut it down was almost impossible." To his credit, former Newsday staffers say, IbargYen invited recruiters from other papers into the newsroom and also helped negotiate generous severance packages. Looking back, the new publisher of the Miami Herald admits to a grudging respect for Willes as a businessman. Times Mirror's moribund stock began to rise almost immediately in response to the new CEO's slash-and-burn tactics, which also included layoffs at other papers. More than 2000 Times Mirror newspaper jobs had been sacrificed by the end of 1995.
"I am realistic enough to realize that the market says he was right," IbargYen observes. "It was hugely important symbolically that he was willing to make the tough decisions."
It was also clear, he says, that New York Newsday was unlikely to reach the rate of return the market demanded. "That's the reality of the business," he says, switching to the present. "Knight Ridder has to be competitive with other newspaper companies."
IbargYen moved over to Newsday, the parent of New York Newsday, for five months, until November 1995. A month later he came to El Nuevo Herald. But the impact of the experience lingered as he and others struggled to imagine how they could have saved the paper. "Had we believed Times Mirror might shut us down, I think we would have driven the paper harder," he says today. "And had we driven it harder, the paper might still exist."
Watching a newspaper die to satisfy Wall Street analysts influenced his actions at El Nuevo. "I run this newspaper," he said from the confines of his old El Nuevo office, "as if we are desperate for additional readers. As if we are desperate for additional revenue."
There will be no subsidies under IbargYen. If a department isn't making money for the company, it won't survive. "Any large part of an operation has to be a net significant contributor to the bottom line," he says.
El Nuevo staffers say that toward the end of IbargYen's employ, a joke circulated around the newsroom: A reporter visits human resources to ask for a job at the paper. He's told there are no positions available but that if he wants to take a seat, one should open up momentarily. In all, some 30 people, out of a staff of about 95, left the paper during those years. Most resigned, and at least one was fired. The list includes managers, editors, reporters, and secretaries. Even one of IbargYen's own secretaries.
In interviews with more than a dozen of those who left El Nuevo while IbargYen was publisher, a portrait emerges of a paper where few felt they had a chance to advance, where experience appeared not to be an important factor in hiring, and where the publisher had a temper he wasn't shy about inflicting on the staff. Despite such complaints, almost no one who spoke to New Times would agree to do so on the record.
According to opinion page editor Ramon Mestre, who was previously an editorial writer for the Miami Herald, IbargYen inherited a paper that suffered from the mentality of a colonized state. Staff members constantly worried about what the Miami Herald thought of them. "'What do people on the fifth floor think? Those are the real journalists,'" Mestre mimics. "The opinion page seemed to be published on an asteroid. They just redistributed the same bloody column on Cuban issues, and it became tiresome."
For Mestre the changes at El Nuevo have been worth the attendant conflict. "If [IbargYen] pushes," he says, "it's because he found too many immobile objects, a newsroom that was not as dynamic as it could be. The turnover was not related to Alberto. These were people who had been here for a bloody long time and had to go elsewhere."
IbargYen hired him, he says, told him things had to improve, and then let him do his job. The result is an editorial section that is more diversified and more interesting than ever. In addition, Mestre notes, when he has come under attack on Cuban radio for supporting controversial columnists, IbargYen has always backed him up.
Yet Mestre's experiences on El Nuevo's opinion pages seem to be different from those of reporters in the newsroom. "When IbargYen first came, we were all very excited that things would finally [improve]," says Juan Carlos Perez, a ten-year reporter who left the paper for a Puerto Rican daily. Yet disillusion set in. A number of reasons are cited, but staffers point to the hiring of a new city editor in mid-1997 as their watershed. Alfredo Casares, who had come to the paper as a 28-year-old intern from Pamplona, Spain, just the summer before, quickly caught IbargYen's eye as a young man with potential.
But El Nuevo reporters rebelled. Matters were made worse, some maintain, because someone who could do the job was already in place: Gladys Nieves, who had been assistant city editor for approximately four years. Nieves says she didn't even bother to apply when the city editor job was posted. "Everybody knew that position already had a name," she says today from Puerto Rico, where she works for El Nuevo Dia, which hired a number of El Nuevo reporters.
Several editorial staffers tried to talk IbargYen out of the appointment, but he refused to change his mind. "It was pretty sad," says one Puerto Rican reporter who left the paper. "What could [Casares] teach us? How could he supervise reporters when he doesn't know anything about the city?"
Dissatisfaction boiled over when Casares forbade reporter Cristina Llado to follow the Versace murder story, even though she had been the first journalist on the scene. Eight hours later he turned the story over to reporter Juan Carlos Perez, who refused the assignment in protest. After just eleven months on the job, Casares returned to Pamplona. IbargYen explains his departure by saying Casares missed his hometown, and his wife didn't like Miami. "There was an element of risk in inviting him," IbargYen reflects today. "It didn't work." Nonetheless, he says, "I think he will be a significant force in journalism in Spain."
Casares's appointment reinforced a newsroom impression, say disgruntled former employees, that IbargYen would never promote from within, and that, despite a few exceptions, management favored men over women for top positions.
IbargYen insists there was no discrimination. Former reporter Rosa Townsend demurs. She has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and a lawsuit in federal court, against the Miami Herald Publishing Company, alleging discrimination and improper dismissal.
In the 1997 Knight Ridder corporate annual report, the Herald is mentioned twice for excellence in journalism and public service. One mention refers to an article in May of that year about the Port of Miami, the other to a county paving contract scandal involving Church & Tower, a story in part broken by Townsend, then a ten-year employee at El Nuevo.
She therefore found it peculiar that male colleagues who had started at about the same time were being paid as much as $12,000 more per year. She confronted her bosses.
It was not the first time Townsend had problems with her superiors. In October 1991 she had informally discussed with Miami Herald publisher Dave Lawrence alleged sexual harassment she said she suffered three years earlier at the hands of El Nuevo news editor Tony Espetia, who is now managing editor.
According to court documents filed by Townsend's lawyer, William Amlong, IbargYen did not react well to her second protest. "Following the refusal by her immediate supervisors at El Nuevo Herald to in March  promote her from a Reporter 3 to Reporter 4, plaintiff sought out and complained to Alberto IbargYen," one document states. "[He] became very angry, screaming at her in Spanish that he 'will not tolerate you accusing us of discriminating against you. You first brought a sexual harassment complaint. Now discrimination. What's next!'"
After returning from two weeks' vacation, Townsend again met with IbargYen to see if he had changed his mind about giving her a raise. "IbargYen became furious once more, saying that she had 'brought all sorts of complaints already,' and told her to go back to the newsroom."
Three days later Townsend was fired and told to leave the building immediately. To make matters doubly humiliating, the man assigned to supervise her departure was Tony Espetia. In a deposition, Townsend described the scene: "I was then told that Mr. Espetia -- the now-managing editor who previously had sexually harassed me -- would be the person to assist me in downloading personal materials from my computer, which he did smiling broadly." (Today Townsend works in the Miami office of Spain's El Pais newspaper.)
IbargYen refuses to comment on the case. A trial is scheduled for September 1999.
In addition to problems with hiring and firing, staffers questioned IbargYen's editorial judgment. "He constantly bombarded you with photocopies of articles, notes, suggestions, and orders," says Manuel Ballagas, who served as the paper's business editor before leaving over a pay dispute. "Sometimes they would be notes about neighbors or friends when they started businesses. You had to be on call for all these little favors for his friends."
Perhaps no other event has defined the relationship between Miami's Cuban community and the Herald and El Nuevo as the vitriolic campaign Jorge Mas Canosa and his Cuban American National Foundation waged against the two papers in 1992. The conflict -- sparked in part by a Herald editorial opposing pending federal legislation about the embargo against Cuba -- made national news. IbargYen says he was aware of the controversy that preceded his arrival.
In that high-profile conflict, Mas Canosa repeatedly bullied both papers, on the radio and in opinion pieces that ran in the Miami Herald, with strident accusations of biased coverage. Faded remnants of the now-famous bumper stickers that declared "I don't believe the Herald" could be seen around the city for years. Such was the extent of Mas Canosa's poder convocatoria, literally "power to summon," that negative coverage of him and his Cuban American National Foundation came to signify an assault on all Cuban Americans.
The battle grew intensely personal. "We are not trying to intimidate you, Mr. Lawrence," wrote Mas Canosa in a Miami Herald opinion piece. "You are already intimidated by your own conscience, lacking a credible rationale to defend the injustices and lack of sensitivity by the Herald toward our community."
Miami Cubans who had defended the Herald when Mas Canosa attacked it were taken aback when IbargYen's El Nuevo published a glowing tribute to Mas Canosa, in the form of a special supplement, after he died this past November 23. "Frequently the leader and the paper had disagreements," wrote IbargYen in the introduction. "In the future, the paper and various leaders may on occasion disagree. This is a normal part of exercising our rights in a democracy. But today, however, we want that life and this homage to serve as a point of convergence for all the community. This El Nuevo Herald supplement is dedicated, with affection and respect, to a life involved with a cause in which we all believe."
Only one story in the fifteen-page supplement dwelled on controversies Mas Canosa had incited. None of the exile leader's long-time critics were quoted. IbargYen justifies the decision to publish it. "I felt that his impact on the community had been big enough so that something was needed that was not just a news story," he says.
IbargYen was clearly sensitive to how El Nuevo Herald covered Mas Canosa while the man was alive, as well. In fact, he instituted a policy whereby all Mas Canosa stories required his review before publication. "I think he had a sense that the [Miami Herald] had become obsessed with Mas," explains El Nuevo opinion page editor Ramon Mestre. "If it were my paper, I'd want to see the stories too."
IbargYen insists that the review policy pertained to all sensitive subjects, including stories about Miami Mayor Joe Carollo, former Mayor Xavier Suarez, and Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez. "I believe our coverage of Mas has been tough and fair," he says. "There was so much tension about anything we did that concerns this man."
Former El Nuevo columnist Jose Raul Alfonso believes the paper deferred to powerful exile interests. The 52-year-old Alfonso spent almost two decades of his life in service to Fidel Castro's government, first as a fifteen-year-old combatant repelling invaders at the Bay of Pigs and finally ending his career with the revolution as a media analyst for Cuban military intelligence. He also found time to study to be a surgical assistant. In 1980, however, he was denounced as a counterrevolutionary for criticizing the Soviet Union and suggesting a dialogue with the United States. He served eight years in prison. Six months after his release, he left for Miami.
After seven years as an assistant to a doctor and a medical clinic manager, he founded a muckraking newspaper that, after several incarnations, is now called AQue Pasa ... Miami!. Impressed by Alfonso's hard-hitting style, Ramon Mestre asked him to contribute a weekly column that would run on Fridays on El Nuevo's opinion pages. Alfonso titled his column "Acapella Politica"; it debuted March 6, 1998.
His first three columns took aim at corruption and influence-peddling in Miami. Alfonso was not shy about naming members of the county's power elite as primary suspects. On Friday, March 27, Alfonso opened up El Nuevo expecting to see his fourth column. It wasn't in the paper. He called Mestre for an explanation and was told the editor was in Venezuela. He subsequently learned, he says, that IbargYen had killed the article and canceled the entire column.
"It was my judgment that it wasn't a column we wanted to continue to run," IbargYen says, refusing requests for elaboration.
Alfonso believes IbargYen canceled his column because of its trenchant content. "El Nuevo believes its readers are from the Cuban rightwing," he asserts.
An alleged El Nuevo bias in favor of anti-Castro hard-liners in the exile community is also a favorite topic of Francisco Aruca on his show Radio Progreso. Aruca, whose pro-dialogue views have enraged many in Miami's exile community, has kept a file over the past year of a dozen or so translations of Herald articles that have appeared in El Nuevo. The stories have been edited to make them more palatable to conservative readers, he believes. For example, he cites the following:
*An article in December 1997 under the headline "Castro healthy, firmly in power, CIA chief says," by Miami Herald staff writer Christopher Marquis. El Nuevo's translation cut a paragraph in the middle of the piece that read: "The portrayal of a hale Castro firmly in charge is unwelcome news for many Cuban exiles, who last month buried Jorge Mas Canosa, chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation and Castro's most influential antagonist. It comes as Mas Canosa followers are scrambling to shore up the hard-line U.S. policy toward Cuba and as proponents of a change probe for an opening."
*A March 1998 article, also by Marquis, headlined "Pentagon: Cuba is not a threat," about a U.S. military report that downplays the danger of Castro to the United States. A number of paragraphs in the El Nuevo version were deleted, including quotes from a Bush administration deputy assistant secretary of defense who says, "Anybody who admits there's a problem with existing policy is branded a pro-Castro apologist."
*A recent story about the protests against Cuban musicians performing at the MIDEM convention in Miami Beach. The Herald story led with the bomb threat that momentarily halted the concert of Cuban performer Compay Segundo. The story carried the headline "Bomb threat interrupts concert by Cuban artists." El Nuevo's story, written by two of the newspaper's reporters, was called "Music inside and outside for MIDEM opening." The bomb was not mentioned until the jump page.
"In English there is always better information," Aruca contends. "They are consciously keeping two communities that are experiencing the same reality from digesting that reality in the same way."
IbargYen and his Argentine-born wife, Susana Lopez, live on Grove Isle in Coconut Grove, according to public records. Their son graduated from Wesleyan University in Connecticut last year and is now traveling the world with his father's blessing. The publisher appears frequently in El Nuevo's social pages, at parties and various civic events around town, but he nevertheless objects vehemently to questions about his personal life. "I am not a public person," he angrily asserts after repeated requests for additional information.
His role as Herald publisher and his active participation in the Florida Philharmonic and the Mesa Redonda would seem to belie that contention. In fact, his highly visible role in the latter two organizations has given rise to questions of conflict of interest. IbargYen insists he has never directed coverage of those institutions. "I've never tried to influence a story about an organization that I've been involved in," he says. "I make sure they are kept separate."
He also says he has no intention of resigning from any of his civic activities unless he is forced by time constraints to do so. Two months into his new job, as IbargYen's schedule remains as hectic as ever, vague outlines of change are beginning to appear.
According to IbargYen, three distinct newspapers will take shape: one in Miami-Dade, one in Broward, and one for Hispanics who want their news in Spanish. El Nuevo will continue on its independent path, the publisher promises. Unsigned editorials are planned. (In the tradition of Latin American newspapers, El Nuevo has never published editorials representing the position of the paper as a whole.)
In a bid to wrest readers from its Broward competitor, the Sun-Sentinel, and to increase readership in Miami-Dade, the Herald is initiating a new emphasis on local coverage. Some areas of Broward have already been introduced to a special Thursday and Sunday section called "Extremely Local." Reasons IbargYen: "What matters to someone in Miami is not going to matter to someone in Davie." By the middle of next year, he hopes to have a version of "Extremely Local" in Dade as well.
Back at One Herald Plaza, sweeping editorial staff changes were announced two weeks ago, the most significant being the appointment of veteran Herald editor and Pulitzer Prize-winner Mark Seibel to a newly created position; he will assume responsibility for all local and statewide news operations (excepting Broward County). Many see the move as a commitment to more aggressive news-gathering. "I think putting Seibel as metro editor is a signal that they want to get tougher and harder," says former Herald editor Jay Ducassi. "Now, whether that will be the case or not ... A lot of good people with very good reputations go to the Herald and suddenly become toothless."
One seasoned Herald reporter recalls a dinner gathering earlier in IbargYen's tenure during which the new publisher outlined his editorial philosophy for the paper. "He said he wants 'bloody-nose stories,' investigative, finding out what's wrong with stuff," the reporter reports. "He wants whatever [readers] see through the [news-rack] window to shock them so much that the 35 cents will just fly out of their pockets."
Despite the tough talk, which appeals to many reporters, a small exodus of veterans is already under way. Some of the departing journalists have been at the Herald for many years. "They told us there is going to be attrition in the newsroom, but it will be natural attrition -- but it doesn't cheer up anyone to hear that," says Michael Browning, who plans to leave the paper in November after twenty years. Although he is heading to the Palm Beach Post largely for personal reasons, Browning says he is dismayed by the bottom-line demands IbargYen was hired to fulfill. "I deplore the corporate greed," he says. "It's not all about the money."
Two-time Pulitzer winner Sydney Freedberg, who began at the Herald in 1983, is departing for the St. Petersburg Times next month. "I'm very sad about leaving," says the respected investigative reporter. "I am going to a paper that is not focused so much on the bottom line."
Tropic magazine executive editor Tom Shroder, who has been with the Herald for fourteen years, is leaving at the end of December to become editor of the highly regarded Sunday "Style" section at the Washington Post. "I feel sad about leaving," he says, "but I'm excited about my new job, and it'll be a relief to be in a place that's not so much under the gun."
IbargYen has said he understands that people move on. He actually encourages his employees to look at other job options; that way, if they remain in Miami, it will be because they so choose. As he puts it: "I want you to stay exactly as long as you want to give me at least 100 percent."
The loyalty and dedication he expects will surely be tested in the days ahead. But for Alberto IbargYen, meeting tough corporate financial demands while maintaining journalistic quality and newsroom morale is not the conundrum others perceive. "I believe good journalism is good business," he says flatly.
"He's got a tough challenge," observes the departing Freedberg. "He has to re-energize the staff while cutting, cutting, cutting. I wish him the best.