Saturday, January 23, 2010


N. Christian Anderson III, the new publisher of The Oregonian, reportedly earns more than a quarter-million dollars a year and therefore will pay slightly more in personal income taxes if Oregon's Measures 66 and 67 are approved by voters. That explains why Anderson is using his prerogative and The Oregonian's considerable resources
-- EVEN delivering FREE editions of the paper, wrapped in anti-measure advertisements
to non-subscribers! -- to convince Oregon voters to vote against the measures, but I've found a question that I cannot answer: Why isn't N. Christian Anderson III a registered Oregon voter himself?
For those who don't about the situation in Oregon: Two ballot measures now under consideration by Oregon voters are designed to raise sufficient revenue to keep Oregon solvent, after lawmakers last year cut the budget by $2 billion and used up all of the federal stimulus money. Several newspapers and dozens of advocacy groups have voiced their support for the measures, but the state's largest newspaper, The Oregonian, has weighed in loudly and often against them. I've written already about why I think the newspaper took this position: It boils down to a recent, radical change in the newspaper's leadership.
In October, the newspaper announced the appointment of N. Christian Anderson III, most recently the publisher of the Orange County Register, who has worked for the past two years as a consultant to media executives and private equity investors. But Orange County isn't Oregon; its notoriously right-wing attitudes and core values aren't Oregon's attitudes and core values, and the decisions that Anderson has made in the last couple of weeks alone reflect that Oregonian readers may not yet realize what's about to happen to Portland and, since the O has the largest readership in the state, to the rest of Oregon. In fact, I was so surprised by the rapid change that I renamed it The Orangeonian
, reflecting its new Orange County influence.
So I started searching online to learn more about this guy and, for one thing, I think I've learned that N. Christian Anderson III -- who's working pretty hard to influence the decisions of Oregon voters
-- isn't an Oregon voter himself, though he started his new job in November, well before January 5 -- the registration deadline for the special January 26 election. In fact, if there was any chance that newcomers to the area might miss that deadline, the Portland Mercury
published a front-page tear-off form in the days leading up to January 5. As attentive as Anderson is to his competitors, there's no way he could have missed it.
But so far as I can tell, he's still registered to vote in Orange County, California, where he still owns an estate valued between $1.1 and $1.7 million. That's right: If I found the right address in Orange County, the value of the Andersons' current home in Trabuco Canyon, California, is estimated as high as $1.7 million. If the current secured property-tax bill for that address is accurate, the Andersons owed more than $13,000 in property taxes this year for the tax-assessed value of $1.161 million, including $646,588 for the land alone and $521,878 more for the home and other "improvements." I found no evidence, online or available through the public terminals in Oregon elections offices, that he's located permanently yet in Portland -- or in Oregon, at all -- or that he's registered to vote anywhere in the state.
If you want to learn more about the guy, the internet will give you enough leads to keep you busy for an evening. Anderson himself is a big help, because he's apparently happy to talk about himself, his philosophies, his accomplishments, his civic participation and seats on various boards, the several professional appointments he's held, the eyeball-to-eyeball chats he's had with an American president or two, and himself some more. If you pay close attention, you can tell that his some of his hardcore, tightly-held professional principles may have shifted over the years.
Here's a taste. Back in 1999, when he was publisher of the Orange County -- why not call it the "Oh-See" like everyone else? -- the OC Register, Anderson offered this warm thought about "civic journalism"
to the Pew Center.
When I was publisher of The Gazette in Colorado Springs, we wrote about a bond issue in the area's largest school district. Voters had not been able to pass a bond issue for 20 years and when it came up on the ballot again, we decided to look at it through the eyes of different constituents -- students, parents, opponents, educators. It was a very different take on an election story.
We could have gotten the people who stake out extreme positions -- the teachers union and the anti-tax forces -- but we included people who had mixed feelings. That got us away from this notion of living at the extremes.
Historically, newspapers are not very good at reporting on ambivalence. But struggling with an issue is far more common than having everything figured out.
I wouldn't want to take the credit or the blame for the fact that the bond issue passed. But I will say that series caused people to think differently about the schools in our community -- not simply, "Should we pay more taxes or not?"
Isn't it odd that in 2010, as the brand-new publisher of The Orangeonian, Anderson didn't use the same "mixed feelings" approach. Instead, he jumped headfirst into a series of editorials opposing these twin ballot measures. From his commentary, I suppose that the passage of the school bonds package in Colorado was helpful to Colorado's schools; why doesn't Anderson feel the same about helping Oregon's schools and public services today? So much for "reporting on ambivalence."
In June 1999, the slick "Orange Coast Magazine" published a feature on Anderson titled "Rashomon of Grand Avenue," explaining rather presciently for the time that it was featuring him "because what N. Christian Anderson's notions of what news is (and more importantly, what it isn't) will determine the issues and personalities that elbow their way onto the public agenda for years to come." Going further, the magazine described Anderson as "a junior-grade Hearst or Pulitzer." Catch this interesting quote and bookmark it:
...[I]t will be N. Christian Anderson who will hire (or fire, or reassign) the editor if their "visions" (Register-speak) diverge.
The author of the item says that he worked with Anderson in the 1980s at the Seattle Times, so he knows people who Anderson worked with and, as I read it, worked over. He reports, "[I]n a sense, I watched both N. Christian Anderson and the Register grow up. And, as any parent will testify, growing up can be a damned painful process. As one editor, who begged not to be identified, said: 'Our pain; his gain'."
Asking Anderson's then-colleagues for comment yielded "a mixed bag of veneration and utter loathing. Of awe and scorn. Of admiration and fear."
When he arrived at the Register, the author writes, "Anderson was the architect and proponent of something called the 'Newsroom Without Walls,' a re-organization scheme... Says Martin J. Smith, former Register columnist and editor-at-large of this magazine: 'Anderson called for innovation but then created this system of conference rooms with black-hooded editors and flickering torches. He banished the heretics'."
That's not a lot of evidence to support Anderson's stated philosophy of considering "mixed feelings" and "ambivalence," and staying away from "extremes."
That summer was busy for Anderson. When USA Today announced that it would begin publishing paid ads on its front page, Anderson was asked for his thoughts
on that decision:
N. Christian Anderson III, publisher and CEO of the Orange County Register, says his paper intends to keep its front page reserved for news in spite of the attraction of added revenue.
"For a USA Today reader, these ads won't be a big deal," says Anderson, president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. "They might even expect to see them. They also see big dollar signs." But, he adds, "We think we know what our readers want. I don't think they want ads on the front page."
Isn't it interesting that the N. Christian Anderson III who protected his Orange County readers from looking at front-page ads is the same N. Christian Anderson III who decided Oregon voters wanted -- or NEEDED? -- to see paid advertisements against Measures 66 and 67 wrapping two editions of their newspaper this week? Maybe he thought Orange County readers were more sophisticated and didn't need schooling, but Oregon voters do. I don't know.
In 2006, when the Orange County Register hit rough economic times, Anderson's solution was to cut jobs
, combine staff responsibilities and prop up some spinoff publications that he'd created.
The L.A. Times, in its story about the Orange County Register's impending buyouts, says staff cutbacks are affecting the copy-editing process:
Register reporters said they were not surprised, given the state of the industry. A newsroom hiring freeze has been in effect for several months. Reporters also had been asked recently to take on more responsibilities — including writing their own headlines — after several copy editors were shifted to OC Post.
OC Post is the new quick-read paper that launched in August. Its employees aren't eligible for the buyout.
But don't worry, folks. The publisher and chief executive, N. Christian Anderson III, has a plan to fix everything. "We have to figure out ways to grow revenue," Anderson said. "All problems go away when you grow revenue."
In 2007, Anderson gave a strange "exclusive" interview to a publication called Fishbowl LA about his face-to-face meeting with President George W. Bush. The headline announces, "N. Christian Anderson Looked Bush In The Eye, Didn't Blink
," and Anderson's assertion is that he represented his newspaper's Libertarian bent in opposing Bush's war in Iraq.
Anderson tells FBLA that opposing the war was a no-brainer for the libertarian daily.
"The Iraqi government had done nothing to cause us harm, protestations from the president notwithstanding," Anderson said. "I remember a conversation I had with President Bush when he visited Santa Ana. I suggested -- at the behest of Cathy Taylor, our VP of opinion and commentary -- that he follow the Powell doctrine and make a decision on invading Iraq based on those principles.
"He looked me straight in the eye and said, 'Saddam is a bad guy.'
To be sure, that was a critical piece of civic journalism, but it also gave Anderson a platform to share more of his philosophy on serving a community as its newspaper publisher:
Perhaps counter-intuitively, Anderson says the only way for newspapers to survive is if they stop being just newspapers.
"To endure, of course newspapers must be relevant and thus ever changing. But the key to our future is to take all the talented people we have and figure out how to turn their wonderful work into content that can be delivered in a variety of ways," he said. "First and foremost is how to deliver it in interactive formats."
"So while I can't say precisely how newspapers need to adapt, other than listening to customers and responding to their needs, I can say that we need to think of ourselves as more than newspapers."
When you take away the core principle that a newspaper's primary purpose is to report news, you open up its opportunities for revenue enhancement, I suppose. But the key point I took away from Anderson's comment was the importance of listening to customers. Again, I wonder if he continues to hold that view, and who he views as his "customers:" Are they The Orangeonian's readers, or are they its advertisers? Two come immediately to mind: Mark Nelson and Pat McCormick, also known as Oregonians Against Job Killing Taxes.
In 2007, depending on what source you read, Anderson either chose to leave the Orange County Register
at the height of his powers or he was booted from it following his costly mistakes in creating failed spinoff publications. Sources quoted by the Los Angeles Times said that when Anderson wasn't given a plum role leading a merged unit in the Register's parent organization, he took his toys and left.
Amid falling profit and failing efforts to lure readers with breezy tabloids, the Orange County Register's top executive announced Wednesday that he was leaving the paper he had transformed from a sluggish daily to a Pulitzer Prize winner known for its bold graphics and design.
N. Christian Anderson III, 57, named in May as publisher of the year by industry magazine Editor & Publisher, will leave Orange County's largest newspaper Sept. 15. His departure after almost three decades with the paper's parent company, Freedom Communications Inc., was due to a reorganization that squeezed out his job, a top company executive said.
In recent months, Anderson had suffered major setbacks. He was supposed to drop his publisher title and continue to oversee a corporate division. However, the company's choice as his successor in June turned out to have fudged her resume. And Anderson's latest attempts to lure readers -- a pair of tabloids with big photos and short stories -- flopped. "OC Post and SqueezeOC were risks and they failed," said a Register reporter.
Freedom Orange County Information, the company division that includes the Register and its sister publications and websites, has not been exempt from the trend.
This month, the Register cut about three dozen newsroom jobs. One reporter said staff members saw some justice in Anderson's departure because it "wasn't just the workers who produce the paper every day who were forced to sacrifice."
Freedom also announced Wednesday a restructuring that merges FOCI, of which Anderson is president, with its community newspapers division, a union that eliminated Anderson's job.
The merger is expected to save Freedom $10 million, Chief Executive Scott N. Flanders said, and is expected to lead to the increased sharing of stories by its papers. Jonathan Segal, president of community newspapers, will head the combined division. Anderson "was supportive and involved in all the deliberations," Flanders said. "When the position didn't go to him, he decided to move on."
Anderson spent at least part of the interim between September 2007 and October 2009 as a consultant to media executives and private equity investors, according to the official press release published by The Orangeonian when he was hired. But in 2008 he took time away from Orange County to teach journalism ethics to college students
in Arizona.
N. Christian Anderson III ... will join Arizona State University this fall as the Edith Kinney Gaylord Visiting Professor in Journalism Ethics. Anderson ... will teach two journalism ethics courses ...
Under his leadership, the Register won its first Pulitzer Prize, awarded for photography for coverage of the 1984 Summer Olympics. Five years later, the newspaper won the Pulitzer for specialized reporting for its investigation of night goggles used by the military.
"I am delighted to ... help students think about the many ethical challenges that journalists face," Anderson said. "In this time of change for news organizations, the one constant is the demand from customers for information that is credible and reflective of the fullness of the communities where they live."
Yet another example of Anderson's public view that newspapers should offer "information that is credible and reflective of the fullness of the communities where they live," a position that doesn't really match The Orangeonian's recent political activism against a pair of ballot measures with at least a majority of public support, as reflected in public polling. I could certainly match Anderson's commentary to his decisions if he were still publishing the Orange County Register, where public sentiment is surely more conservative than in Portland. But he's not in Orange County, he's in Portland
-- at least, that's what the media have said.
N. Christian Anderson III began his job this week as publisher of The Oregonian at one of the more harrowing times in the daily’s 159-year history. Like most newspapers, The O has been devastated by the loss of advertising, the loss of readers, the explosion of competition from online news, and the recession.
Former Register staffers credit Anderson with elevating the paper in right-wing Orange County from a crappy, John Birch Society-influenced rag after arriving as editor in 1980. The paper was so right-tilting at the time that reporters could not use the phrase "public schools" or "public libraries" and were instead required to refer to them as "taxpayer-supported."
Anderson—who, according to Orange County voting records, has chosen not to state a party affiliation—shielded the newsroom from the libertarian editorial-page politics of its parent company, Freedom Communications.
One critic of Anderson who worked for him at the Register in the 1980s and 1990s predicts he will press for short, punchy front-page stories and may allow only one story to jump to an inside page. "The president could declare war and you had to write it in four to five inches," says one former Register staffer. "You won’t recognize The Oregonian in 18 months."
Readers of The Oregonian aren’t the only ones who can expect changes with Anderson’s appointment as publisher. So can staff. Anderson replaces Fred Stickel, who retired at age 87 after 35 years as publisher. In recent years, newsroom observers speculated he would be succeeded by Editor Sandy Rowe or Stickel’s son, Oregonian President Patrick Stickel. Neither got the job.
In the middle of that item from the Willamette Week, I noticed that Anderson, publisher of one of the most conservative papers -- well known for its Libertarian leanings -- chose "not to state a party affiliation" according to Orange County records. Of course, no one ever has to. But doesn't it make you wonder?
I also took note of his unnamed former employee's warning: "You won't recognize The Oregonian in 18 months."
In fact, it hasn't been 18 weeks since Anderson was appointed, and The Orangeonian has already replaced The Oregonian.
That started in November, when Anderson educated Oregon readers
about what a newspaper publisher does: "I have overall responsibility for the company’s performance, which of course is related to how well we serve readers and advertisers, and whether we operate efficiently in doing so," he wrote on November 22.
In my world, the measurement of greatest success is whether we are profitable and whether we are growing revenue and the size of our audience. I lead the establishment of strategy for the company, through a team of executives responsible for individual departments of the newspaper. And, I monitor their performance in executing that strategy.
On the other hand, there are many things I don’t do. Most important, I don’t edit The Oregonian. That means I don’t decide news coverage, except in a strategic way, and I don’t decide what goes on the front page or how a headline is written. I have begun to give feedback to our editor, Sandy Rowe, but it’s after the fact. Despite my long career as an editor before I became a publisher, I don’t intend to substitute my judgment for Sandy’s and her team’s.
Did you catch that ominous last note, reminding us all of his long career as an editor, and that he'd begun giving "feedback" to editor Sandy Rowe? That line took me instantly back to what the Orange Coast Magazine said in 1999:
...[I]t will be N. Christian Anderson who will hire (or fire, or reassign) the editor if their "visions" (Register-speak) diverge.
Still, Anderson reassured us:
So what can you expect from a new publisher of The Oregonian? First, nothing is going to change overnight.
That was true enough. It was a whole two weeks before Sandy Rowe told her staff of her "retirement." Anderson followed Rowe's personal email to colleagues with a grand declaration of his own
Today we are making a very important announcement about the transition of leadership in our newsroom. Sandy Rowe is retiring effective December 31. Peter Bhatia, our executive editor, will become editor of The Oregonian on January 1.
This was a difficult decision for Sandy, but it is one she felt good about making — and which she made in the best interests of our company. I support Sandy’s decision. I know you will join me in recognizing her enormous contributions to the company and to our community. Thankfully, she will continue to contribute to Portland, to Oregon and to the national and international journalism community.
I’m also pleased to announce Peter’s promotion. This is the best of both worlds — continuity in the newsroom while bringing the inevitable different perspective that comes with a change in leadership.
"The inevitable different perspective that comes with a change in leadership."
What wasn't announced publicly but what has been said elsewhere is that Anderson stripped the new editor, Bhatia, of his authority over the editorial board. The board apparently answers directly to Anderson himself now. But did that happen before or after the next bombshell dropped on December 30
For the first time in 42 years, no member of the Stickel family has an executive role at The Oregonian now that Patrick Stickel has retired as its president. The quiet but expected departure also means that the paper will have a different editor, publisher and president next year than it had mere months ago.
In September, publisher Fred Stickel, Patrick's father, retired from a career at the paper that began in 1967, when he brought his family, Patrick included, from New Jersey to Oregon. He came aboard first as the paper's general manager, then president in 1972 and publisher in 1975. Chris Anderson, formerly of the Orange County Register, has replaced him in that position.
Sandy Rowe, who has edited The Oregonian since 1993, is retiring tomorrow. Peter Bhatia, current executive editor, takes her position on January 1.
Patrick Stickel first became president in 1993. No replacement has been announced.
By the way, Mitch Nolan at Oregon Media Central published an item last night that answered some important questions. For example, since Oregonians Against Job Killing Taxes wasn't in a position to pay for the Orangeonian ads, who did? Pat McCormick revealed to Nolan that "the ads were technically purchased by the Northwest Grocery Association
as an in-kind contribution to his organization."
When was the decision made to publish the OAJKT ads? Before the Orangeonian's first "vote no" editorial, Nolan reports, the newspaper's advertising department said it didn't print political ads in the front-page spadeas. But after the editorial ran, OAJKT's Mark Nelson -- apparently coordinating the Northwest Grocery Association's ad placement on behalf of his campaign committee without running a NGA contribution through his committee's treasury -- won the Orangeonian's approval.
Of course, Anderson's position on the measures had nothing to do with the choice to take the ad. Of course it didn't.
But while The Oregonian's endorsement was what prompted the campaign's second push for a spadea, publisher Chris Anderson repeatedly stressed to OMC that the paper's decision to run the ad "had nothing to do with the endorsement — not at all."
Anderson says that he and then-president Pat Stickel decided in December to accept political spadeas in the current election, before they made an endorsement, and he says they made the decision without discussing their editorial position. He says he does not know whether there had previously been a policy not to accept such ads.
But Mario van Dongen, director of sales and marketing at The Oregonian, says that there was indeed such a policy, and that the policy was his own. ... Van Dongen says that Stickel received an inquiry about a political ad on the spadea while he was away, so, after consultation with Anderson, the decision to accept it was made without him.
The newspaper's longtime president was "away," so Anderson made that call. The significance of the Orangeonian's sudden change of mind isn't lost on the University of Oregon's dean of journalism -- and neither is Anderson's brief stint teaching journalism ethics in Arizona.
Tim Gleason, dean of the University of Oregon's School of Journalism, says that, while he has "absolutely no doubt" that there is no connection between The Oregonian's editorial position and the paper's decision to accept the spadea, he believes that the ad is a "symbol of the degree to which financial pressures are influencing news decision-making." He warns that "the credibility of any news organization is challenged when the line between advertising and editorial content is blurred," something he says he sees "in all mediums." He says that Sunday's spadea is "a very visible symbol of that trend."
The Oregonian will revisit whether to accept spadeas in future political campaigns.

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