Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Ex- International Herald Tribune Publisher Peter Goldmark

The last publisher of the International Herald Tribune was Peter Goldmark, or Peter Goldmark Jnr. as I think he likes to be referred to. He left the IHT under something of a cloud, after the NYT had taken full-ownership of the IHT from the its up-until-then joint owner, the Washington Post.

In a emotional resignation statement, released to employees and the media, he claimed that the editorial independence of the IHT was threatened by the NYT ownership and proposed style of management.

What was somewhat laughable about his resignation was the suggestion that the publisher of the IHT had EVER had any control of the editorial content of the IHT: it was always the executive editor who retained complete control over the content of the newspaper, never the publisher and this was undoubtedly something of brake on the business development of the IHT.

Peter was a very affable and charming man, but I remember him best for two meetings I had with him, one which I'll recount now.

Before the NYT took control of the newspaper, the executive board of the newspaper, led by Peter Goldmark, was under relentless pressure from its owners (the WP and the NYT) to cut costs, even at the expense of editorial content.

(In my opinion this drive was led by the NYT's then CEO Russ Lewis as part of a larger strategy to drive down the chances of the IHT ever being profitable in the long-term, so as to make their planned play to force out the WP that much easier.)

Hence a decision was made, by Peter Goldmark, to cut the size of the newspaper from an average of around 20-24 pages to whenever possible, as few as 18, indeed on occasions (Mondays) even smaller. He could have said no, and if there was a time to resign, then surely that was it.

There was outrage from the then editor of the IHT, Mike Getler who had come to the IHT from the Washington Post.

(The tradition had then been that the editorship of the IHT was within the alternating gift of the two owners, a rule that Peter Goldmark, to his credit, succeeded in overturning, when he insisted that the editor after Mike Getler should be appointed not by the WP and the NYT, but by him. He went with David Ignatius when Getler, after just too many battles protecting his news hole, decided to quit and return to the Post where he became the newspapers' Ombudsman.)

Goldmark's cost cutting was relentless, and I am not proud to have been a part of it in my role as worldwide marketing director.

But cutting the news hole to such a thin newspaper was seen not only by Getler, but by both the then advertising director Stephen Dunbar Johnson (now the IHT's commercial supremo), the then circulation and development director Didier Brun, and myself as being a suicidal decision, the paper already being too thin in our opinion to retain credibility with readers and advertisers, without being cut back even further.

I went to SDJ and Brun and said I was going to put in writing my concerns about this cutback, concerns I had already voiced quite vocally to Goldmark, and I asked the two of them, given that they agreed, to be co-signatures to my memo. Both turned down the opportunity. Not discouraged I went ahead, a punchy one page memo that left Goldmark in no doubt as to where I stood, and emailed it to his office.

About one hour later, I was summoned to Goldmark's command post, ushered into his office, there to be met by a stony faced Goldmark and his goffer Richard Wooldridge, at that time the IHT's COO.

I sat down, and awaited some dialogue.

Instead Goldmark picked up a print-out of my memo that lay on front of him on his desk, told me he was now fully aware of my position, and then proceeded, in front of me, to slowly and deliberately rip up my memo into small pieces, all the time holding direct eye contact with me, and throw it in the rubbish bin.

I was then told that the meeting was concluded and asked to leave.

I had wondered what had become of this champion of the free press, so I was interested to pick up on a Canadian blogger who had the chance to hear him speak.

Nancy Schwartz had heard Peter Goldmark speak on the subject of Why Communications Advocacy Should Remain #1 on Your To Do List

Goldmark is now Director of the Climate and Air program at Environmental Defense (ED) and was speaking at the Philanthropy’s Sweet Spot Forum, co-sponsored by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and the Stanford Social Innovation review.

Schwartz writes that she 'was confronted (yet again) last week with a pointed reminder of one of philanthropy’s biggest Achilles’ heels the often overlooked or misunderstood importance of integrating innovative communications strategies into every program. '

"Obviously," she wrote, "Goldmark is one smart guy who knows how to engage his audience."

I think I would agree with the latter observation, and generally with the former, but how he handled the NYT takeover of the IHT, his time as IHT Publisher and the manner of his departure was anything but smart.

No comments: