Las Vegas newspaper: Live by the coup, die by the coup

The CEO of Stephens Media, owner of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, “stepped down” today to be replaced by a former Denver publisher.

Mike Ferguson

Stepped down” is the wording used when former CEO and publisher Sherman Frederick was replaced by Mike Ferguson as CEO and Bob Brown as publisher about a week after Harry Reid was re-elected in 2010. Frederick stayed on as a consultant, weekly columnist and nearly its sole remaining blogger.

That was the same day it was reported that I “would be stepping down” from editor to senior opinion editor, which lasted about six months. Several other top newspaper executives “stepped down” that day, too.

Mike Hengel, who had worked with Ferguson at another paper, was named editor. I wonder if he hears footsteps tonight.

The R-J is reporting that Ed Moss, formerly CEO and president of the Denver Post will replace Ferguson. Moss left the Post in March after only a year at the paper, reportedly to recuperate from injuries in a fall. Previously, he was publisher of the San Diego Union-Tribune and other California papers. He also was publisher at papers in Ohio, Michigan and Louisiana

Ed Moss

Warren Stephens, chairman of the board of Stephens Media, made the announcement, as he did when Frederick “stepped down.”

In 2009, when Moss left the Los Angeles Daily News to become publisher in San Diego, Ron Kaye, the former editor of the Daily News, penned a scathing blog about Moss, saying among other less than flattering things:

“Sending Moss to fix a struggling paper is like sending a mortician to treat an ailing patient. He will do the only thing he knows how to do: Cut, and cut, and cut some more: When he’s done with his handiwork, the U-T will be ready for embalming and burial much like the Daily News is

“Moss arrived at the Daily News nearly two years ago when it still had fight in it and immediately was dubbed “Little Napoleon” for his short stature, imperious manner and inability to engage in any kind of intelligent discussion of strategies that might save the paper.

“He’s a man who speaks in vapid cliches and offers no leadership.”

Kaye said Moss seldom entered the newsroom.

The R-J announcement also mentioned the letter of intent that had been signed by Ferguson and Paul Hamilton, president of the Las Vegas Sun and the Greenspun Corp., to dissolve the joint operating agreement under which the R-J prints and distributes the Sun as a section in the paper. “Both parties have said they expect the dissolution agreement to be finalized by the end of the year,” the story said, without mentioning Brian Greenspun’s futile efforts to derail the agreement in court, even though it was agreed to by his three siblings.

The newspaper’s circulation has been eroding, its website is a jumbled mess and search engine optimization is nonexistent — the paper’s stories are the last to be returned, if at all, in a keyword search.

Can’t say I’m surprised by the turn of events. Keep your heads down, R-J staffers. If Kaye is right, the bleeding will continue.

25 comments on “Las Vegas newspaper: Live by the coup, die by the coup

  1. Hey Thomas, a very interesting account of what happened…it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there (you know, the proverbial Darwinian survival of the fittest).

    BTW, did Mr Hengel replace mr Zobell ? Do Steve Sebelius, Laura Myers, Sean Whaley and Ed Vogel REPORT TO Hengel now ?

    Like the fictitious Mafia Don Corleone said to someone, “…it’s nothin’ personal; it’s strictly business”

  2. Hengel replaced me. Zobell and half dozen others were taken out later. The other you mentioned report to Hengel, who was brought in by Ferguson … if you get my drift.

    >

  3. Funny, posts on this topic get a lot of hits, but hardly any comments. I wonder why that is? You know, R-J staffers, you can post under a pseudonym.

  4. Thank for the “inside baseball”…do you think Steve Sebelius will advance or promoted ?

  5. Don’t think Moss cares about the news and opinion sections, except how much they cost.

    >

  6. Steve says:

    Rich Lake got out Just In Time.

    How soon will they realize they let the winning team members go, cutting off their noses in spite of their faces?

    Its been noticed many times on the blogs the editor seems to be non existent.

    Sebelius has been active in his blog, in the comments, like Sherm has been in his. This pumps up the readership and sells ads. I bet Sherm had a hand in suggesting Sebelius get involved in that way. No matter what one thinks of the “gun loving liberal” from Orange, he gets hits. Hits sell ads.

    Got to wonder if Sherm is keeping his connection as a way of being ready to come back and suggest a new team?

  7. Anonymous says:

    Interesting that Warren S chose another executive who avoids going into the newsroom. He will have “big shoes” to fill in this regard. In 20 years at the RJ, I never saw Ferguson — or, if I did, I didn’t know who he was.

    I also wonder why a publication the size of the RJ needs a separate publisher and CEO — although maybe one of them watches the small town papers spread across Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas.

    I do hope the change does not affect the remaining good reporters who managed to avoid the first round of purges at the RJ. I also wonder what this means for the platoons of “cub” reporters that the RJ hired after laying off senior reporters and editors. Some of the new reporters are talented, but some are being asked to cover beats they clearly do not understand.

  8. Jim Day says:

    When was the last time you were urged to subscribe to the Review-Journal?

    It’d been years since I’d seen or heard any ads for the paper until a couple of weeks ago when I got a mass mailing letter from David Serfozo, the R-J’s Director of Sales and Promotion.

    Serfozo wrote that I was missed as a former subscriber and now I was wanted back. (I let my subscription lapse three years ago around the time the R-J editor, Mike Hengel, fired me, ending my 30-year career there on a moment’s notice.)

    Serfozo’s letter said that to get me back — as a subscriber only, obviously — I would receive eight weeks of free home delivery beginning with the Sunday newspaper. I barely slept that Saturday night waiting to hear the slap of a free Sunday newspaper hitting my driveway.

    It never came.

    Then Monday’s paper never came, Tuesday’s paper didn’t show, then an empty driveway on Wednesday, and on Thursday and Friday.

    The problem: the R-J doesn’t even know how to give a the paper away. Another problem: the R-J website — FUBAR!

    Mike Ferguson now reaps what was sown and a new guy, with an axe and bone saws wrapped with bloody rags in his carpetbag, is coming on board.

    There are more than a few reasons, beyond the earlier rounds of botched personnel surgeries, why the “Old Gray Lady” of Las Vegas has a thready pulse.

  9. Well said, Jim, I can envision one of your cartoon sketches.

    “Mike Ferguson now reaps what was sown and a new guy, with an axe and bone saws wrapped with bloody rags in his carpetbag, is coming on board.”

  10. Steve says:

    I miss those sketches.

  11. Vernon Clayson says:

    Do they even want to put out a traditional newspaper or is it just something to fold ads in? Think how much they would save on paper and labor if they just printed out headlines they believe interesting with a .com address, customers could pick and choose what they want to read more about, e.g., Rebels play, check it out at LVRJ/Rebelsstumble.com., or Harry Reid speech, check it out at LVRJ/Reid/brainfart.com. No, bad idea, it would require more computer skills than even the Affordable Care Act people can garner.

  12. None says:

    Folks: Effective today I am no longer President and CEO of Stephens Media LLC.

    I want to thank each and every one of you for the dedicated service you have and are providing to this company. I know you will all continue to do the very best job possible as you work through the changes to come. You are the best and it has been my genuine pleasure to have worked with you.

    Ours is an industry in the midst of great change. If there was a road map to follow on how best to navigate through these changes, it would have made life easier the last couple of years. But there is not and there are differing views on how best to keep newspapers healthy as we transition to a digital future. Reasonable people can and do disagree on what needs to be done and how it needs to be done, and that is where I find myself today. There is no longer agreement and so it is time to have others work out the what the future holds for Stephens Media.

    I have been very fortunate to have worked for some great people.
    Donrey was my home from high school till I was well into my 30’s. When Stephens acquired the company I continued to work with some of the best people in this or any other industry. I was given opportunities I never would have anticipated and was able to do things that exceeded all of my life expectations.

    It has been fun and rewarding and I have never been sorry for any part of a single day that I chose this to be my career.

    My only regret as I depart, is that we started a good many projects in the last three years, and a good many of you moved and took new positions taking a chance on what I saw as the future. And now I won’t be around to help you finish the job.

    I wish you all the very best.

    Thanks,
    Mike

  13. I can’t attest for the letter signed by “Mike” but it sounds legit. He should regret forcing me to “step down.”

    >

  14. Sort of like I “stepped down” from delivering after complaining about being repeatedly charged for papers I was delivering and my constant assertion that lack of a paywall on the website was fleecing the print subscribers. Still waiting for how they calculated the numbers on terminating my contract w/o a 30day notice, but Im not holding my breath. I still help some folks fold and deliver apartments for a guy that well just say eats for free at The Heart Attack Grill.

    To Jim Day, that 8 weeks they were talking about was for Sunday only, but realize that the carriers are generally being overwhelmed by this program. Most carriers are being given between 40-80 new customers when they show up on Saturday night with no advance notice that would allow them to plan ahead. Sunday is always a tight schedule already without having to find all these new customers on top of the time to fold those extra. If the RJ gave carriers the list of promo customers Friday it wouldnt be an issue since Saturday is an easy paper plus getting til 7am to have it delivered, but dumping it on Sunday makes the average carrier say to heck with it and not deliver the promo papers.
    Also be prepared for bedlam for the Thanksgiving paper. The box truck that brings papers from the dock to the bonanza center broke down and carriers are having to pick up bundles from the dock. That may not sound like a huge problem, but thats 45 extra mins that could be out on the route.

  15. […] friendly reminder to all the remaining staffers at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Boss Moss starts Monday as CEO of R-J owner Stephens […]

  16. […] told the ending of the JOA was being pushed by former Stephens Media CEO Mike Ferguson, and when he was ousted the new boss is in no hurry to finish off the Sun. There has been no new activity in the litigation […]

  17. […] Stop the charade already, Boss Moss. […]

  18. My wife said that the RJ circulation started to go down when you guys cancelled the TV Guide as a free insert…TV Guide articles are better than the cliche political pieces

  19. […] Review-Journal and its corporate owner Stephens Media. First, Stephens Media CEO Mike Ferguson was ousted three years after the ousting of Stephens CEO and R-J publisher Sherman Frederick. Now, Bob Brown, […]

  20. […] for that editorial, don’t piss on my boots and tell me it’s raining, Boss Moss. That editorial adds insult to […]

  21. […] Media named a new CEO in December, Ed “Boss” Moss, who has a reputation for slashing staffing at newspapers across the […]

  22. Joseph Donovan says:

    I’d love your comment on the copyright portion of the Review Journal Wiki — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Las_Vegas_Review-Journal

    I have to tell you, I thought ‘with attribution’ quotes were legal. I can’t imagine making a business of searching around for free extended distribution to make a business of lawsuits.

    “Copyright infringement[edit]

    Beginning in 2010, the Stephens Media property Las Vegas Review-Journal adopted a new business plan based on copyright litigation.[6] That practice has been coined “copyright trolling” after its practice of scouring the internet for ‘violations’ to make a profit.[7] The newspaper is currently involved in a controversy over the licensing of its content to Righthaven LLC, a litigation firm that was “grubstaked” by Stephens Media,[8] the parent company of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and exists for the sole purpose of suing media outlets, including blogs, over the use of copyrighted content that first appeared in the Review-Journal…” (more follows)

  23. I think that is a dead horse.

  24. The 3rd richest man in America Mr Warren Buffet will eventually own the RJ and conservative heads will roll. The paper will morph into a left wing rag like the NYT, WAPO, or LA Times. Mark my word…

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