Pity the Poor Millionaire Executives of Newspaper Chains

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Times are so tough for the newspaper industry that newspapers are taking to their editorial pages to decry a Department of Labor rule that would require companies to actually pay overtime to the workers who write, edit, and publish the stories for readers. On Tuesday, the Independent Record published a piece by the CEO of the Newspaper Association of America, David Chavern, who worried that requiring newspapers to pay overtime to workers who make more than $24,000 annually would be devastating to the industry, undermining “journalistic resources” and local advertisers.

Chavern, who did not disclose salary, previously worked for the US Chamber of Commerce, where he publicly argued against the minimum wage, telling a CSPAN audience:

I think as a matter of economic theory, we would probably agree with you. It doesn’t help to have the government setting wage rates. It is ultimately counterproductive. It may make people feel good politically, but it does not help job growth. On the other side of the coin, you have to understand practical politics.

Incidentally, the last CEO of the Newspaper Association of America made a salary of $633, 395 in 2013, with seven other executives averaging over $200,000 a year in salary.

Chavern’s opposition to minimum is in line with his position on adequately paying reporters and others who work at newspaper chains. While giving lip service to the demands of journalism, what Chavern is really calling for is the ability to keep paying reporters ridiculously low salaries to increase the bottom line of corporations.

What you probably won’t read in the Independent Record is the story of where the money not spent on reporters actually goes. The Seeking Alpha investment blog reported today that Lee Enterprises, the corporate owner of the Independent Record, has “adjusted” the salaries of its top executives. From their report:

  • New Executive Chairman (but former chairman, president and CEO) Mary Junck will receive a reduced salary of $575,000 in her new role. Her annual cash bonus award targeted to AOCF goals is another $575,000.
  • Meanwhile, new president and CEO Kevin Mowbray (formerly executive VP and COO) will get a salary bump to $700,000. His AOCF-targeted cash bonus award is another $700,000. He also received an incentive-based restricted stock target award of 150K shares.

Two executives who have overseen the complete collapse of Lee’s stock value, saddled the company with crippling debt that threatens its future viability, and stripped newsrooms to a level where adequate local coverage is nearly impossible will be receiving compensation of $2.5 million dollars, plus some largely worthless stock options. Just imagine how much the two would be worth if they hadn’t overseen the complete collapse of their company, whose stock is trading at $1.35 today, down from a high of $49.00 back in 2004.

That’s vulture capitalism at work. While the editorial page prints dire warnings about the economic calamity of paying reporters a living wage, the financial pages of other news outlets remind us that corporate executives, unburdened by expectation of success—or even competence—can be paid millions of dollars while the once-proud papers they lead fade into oblivion.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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