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Newsday Shakeup Could Signal Power Shift

“Inside Fallujah,” the New York edition of Newsday headlined today, as thousands of U.S. and Iraqi troops pushed an offensive aimed at ousting the Sunni city’s insurgent rulers.

Inside Newsday, the buzz was about an ouster of a different kind: The departure of editor Howard Schneider and his replacement by John Mancini, an assistant managing editor, effective Wednesday.

The change probably marks an effort by the troubled tab to try to close the door on this summer’s circulation scandal, but it could also herald the ascendance of the paper’s New York faction over its Long Island–centric nemeses.

The switch won’t be painless. At least 50 job cuts were expected as well, although no final number had been decided by midday Tuesday because the budget for next year was still being finalized. Buyout packages were expected to go out to employees within a week, with the hope that enough people would leave voluntarily to make layoffs unnecessary.

Reporters were to hear a formal announcement of the change in editors at mid-afternoon, but in memos circulated late this morning, Newsday publisher Tim Knight said Schneider stepped down after “it became apparent that we have basic differences in how best to position Newsday for the future.”

In a farewell note, the 35-year Newsday veteran Schneider—the paper’s editor for 15 months—said that his leaving was “a painful decision, but one that became increasingly apparent because of fundamental differences between Tim and myself about the direction of the paper.”

The shakeup comes only months after Knight’s predecessor as publisher, Raymond Jansen, was forced out in August, and only days after the paper’s transportation chief, John Tedesco, was let go—all amid the circulation scandal that has led the Chicago-based Tribune Company to bank $90 million to settle potential claims from advertisers against Newsday and its Spanish-language daily Hoy. Both papers misstated their circulation figures by tens of thousands of copies going back to 2001. A final report on the circulation mess is still pending from the Audit Bureau of Circulation. But Wall Street gave its review this summer: Tribune’s stock price took a beating when the news was really bad this summer.

Newsday employees said there were hints for some time that job cuts were coming. One insider at the paper speculated that Schneider got the ax Tuesday because the buyout packages were about to be circulated and employees deciding whether to stay or go would want to know who was the boss. But the roots of the dispute between Schneider and Knight are deeper and older than that.

When longtime editor Tony Marro stepped down in August 2003, he and Jansen installed Schneider despite Tribune’s preference for bringing in fresh blood from the outside, according to sources familiar with the paper’s internal workings. Tribune deferred to Jansen because of his success in guiding the paper—a record that collapsed once the circulation bubble burst.

The Long Island–loyalist Schneider, meanwhile, became a lightning rod in the long-running internecine struggle within Newsday between the Island and New York factions. With Jansen (publisher since 1994) out and the number-crunching Knight in, Schneider was exposed—and, on Tuesday, expelled.

Mancini gets a big bump up the management ladder from assistant managing editor for New York to top man in Melville, L.I., where the paper is headquartered.

In some ways his move to the top of the Newsday masthead mirrors that paper’s off-and-on relationship with New York City. Since New York Newsday folded in 1995—with Mancini as city editor—the paper has gradually renewed its ties to the metropolis, most recently opening a satellite office on Park Avenue with about 30 editorial staffers.

Now a question confronting Mancini and Knight is where that relationship will go next, and in particular whether the main city desk of the New York edition will move from Kew Gardens to the Manhattan offices.

Newsday staff members sang Mancini’s praises Tuesday, describing him as a spirited team player. Columnist Ellis Henican described the well-traveled editor as “great, energetic, fun—truly a new generation of leadership here.”

However, the looming buyouts are testimony to the resource constraints Mancini will face in building up the New York side. Mancini’s promotion might help to lift the gloom at Newsday, but as the circulation scandal has illustrated, in the end numbers matter.

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Pressure Drop Newsday Foreign Editor Sparks Culture War

On October 23, as fledgling Newsday editor Howard Schneider prepared to make his first round of appointments, one employee refused to go along with the plan—foreign editor Dele Olojede. The job Schneider was offering Olojede was assistant managing editor for Long Island—a promotion that would have put him in line to take over the paper one day. But the decision seemed to already have been made without consulting Olojede, who felt utterly disrespected.

Under pressure to accept the job in 24 hours, Olojede said no, according to several sources. Schneider gave him time to reconsider, but Olojede had already e-mailed his staff, informing them, “My current position is no longer tenable” and “I will not be at Newsday, in all likelihood, for long.”

Nearly two months later, Olojede remains at Newsday, which is owned by the Tribune Company. The well-liked and highly regarded Nigerian is said to have discussed future jobs with The New York Times as well as the Tribune-owned Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times. His anticipated departure has left the foreign desk in turmoil, and no obvious successor has emerged. Says one staffer: “To lose someone with that talent and credibility is pretty shortsighted.”

As Olojede stalls, hoping for a smooth transition, many colleagues have tried to change his mind, including publisher Raymond Jansen, who told the Voice that no one has asked Olojede to leave, adding, “He’s Newsday‘s foreign editor and I’m happy with that. I expect him to stay.” Via e-mail, Schneider said that Olojede “remains a very important part of our newsroom.” Olojede declined to comment.

At the end of October, Schneider announced the appointments of managing editor Richard Galant and New York editor Les Payne. Whereas in the past the foreign editor had reported to assistant managing editor Lonnie Isabel, who in turn reported to Payne, Payne is now out of the foreign news loop and Isabel reports directly to Galant. More recently, Schneider hired an AME for Long Island: Deborah Henley, who worked with Galant at New York Newsday in the early 1990s and went on to become executive editor of the Wilmington, Delaware, News-Journal.

Colleagues call these newshounds excellent hires, and Newsday is fortunate to have Payne and Isabel, both African Americans, in top management positions. But the “Dele situation” continues to roil the newsroom, according to sources. Indeed, Schneider seems to have alienated several groups at once, including some staffers on the foreign desk and some African Americans, who are said to be up in arms. Payne did not return a call. Isabel declined to comment.

Tempting as it is to do so, this conflict cannot be reduced to black and white. As a former Long Island editor himself, Schneider is a champion of local coverage and his goal is to make Newsday the best regional newspaper in the country. One colleague notes that since Schneider took over last summer, local news has gotten more timely. Another source claims that Schneider had been assured that Olojede would take the Long Island job. After all, it was a promotion to a key spot managing a staff of some 60 reporters, and a chance to be the highest-ranked African American in the newsroom.

But to Olojede, Newsday‘s Melville headquarters may be a tad provincial. After starting as a Long Island reporter in the 1980s, Olojede traveled widely, working as a correspondent at the UN and in Africa and Asia in the 1990s. By the time he became foreign editor in early 2001, Newsday‘s foreign desk included bureaus in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Russia. He earned the loyalty of his correspondents by encouraging them to mix big-picture stories with breaking news and by lobbying to get their stories in the paper.

Sources say Olojede’s resistance may have been partly personal, in that he and his wife live in New Jersey. He had already been making a difficult commute to Long Island, while spending Fridays in New York, where he maintains contacts at the UN. Moreover, he had had his eye on the job of managing editor or assistant managing editor with some hand in foreign coverage. For him, being sent to Melville without consultation must have seemed as unnatural as an arranged marriage.

While Olojede bides his time, his colleagues have marshaled arguments for maintaining strong foreign coverage. It not only brings the paper prestige and Pulitzers, they say, but also helps the paper in New York City by giving it an edge over the Post and Daily News. While no evidence of reduced foreign coverage has surfaced, Schneider is said to want to emphasize breaking news. One source predicts that both foreign and national editors will now have to work harder to sell their stories to top editors.

As a kind of preemptive strike, some staffers have informed Schneider that whoever succeeds Olojede must be a former foreign correspondent, and that he should hire someone with foreign experience at a level higher than assistant managing editor. (Neither Schneider nor Galant have national or foreign experience.) In response, Schneider points out that his predecessor, Anthony Marro, was never a foreign reporter, nor was any editor before him. When Schneider was managing editor, the paper won three Pulitzers for its foreign coverage. Says Schneider, “To be complete, we need ambitious coverage in the nation, the world and in the areas of health, science, arts, and business reporting.”

Acknowledging that there are “things to be done” with local and New York City coverage, Jansen said it would be a “leap” to begin predicting a “negative impact” on foreign and national coverage. “Obviously,” Jansen said, “it’s a fear for some people involved, but I would suggest that they control their paranoia and see what happens.”

Along with the future of foreign news, diversity is now a hot topic. Schneider has a history of favoring his cronies, most of whom happen to be white, middle-aged, Jewish men. His perceived slight to Olojede may have been purely unintentional, but colleagues feel his failure to make amends has left him vulnerable. Other managers at the Long Island paper, including Payne and former managing editor Charlotte Hall, have been unflagging champions of diversity. Indeed, Newsday now has one of the most diverse newsrooms in the country, with minority representation up from 14.2 percent in 1996 to 25.8 percent in 2003. Some staffers worry that Olojede’s departure may set off a stampede.

In recent weeks, many African Americans in the newsroom have scrutinized the “Dele situation” and their own prospects for advancement. Black editors have met with Jansen, while other staffers have sought help from Newsday‘s City Hall reporter Curtis Taylor, a past president of the New York Association of Black Journalists. Taylor and others continue to seek meetings with managers and an opportunity to be heard.

Last week, Jansen called the diversity concerns “unfounded,” given that “one of the top jobs was offered to an African American and he chose not to take it.” Schneider said, “We remain very committed to diversity and will continue to build on that strength.”