New York--Publishing industry veteran Jim Dunning was fired late Monday as chairman and president-CEO of Ziff Davis Media Inc. following a not-so-stellar run. Chicago-based Willis Stein & Partners, which financed Dunning's $780 million purchase of Ziff Davis in December 1999, has hired the global executive search firm Spencer Stuart Inc. to find his replacement. Avy Stein, a managing partner in Willis Stein, will serve as interim chairman-CEO until a replacement is found.Dunning's ouster comes amid a mounting series of problems for Ziff. In the first half of the year, its ad pages were off 39% compared with the same period last year, according to the Publishers Information Bureau. Ad revenue fell 31%.In an effort to stop the hemorrhaging, Dunning earlier this year slashed about 200 jobs from the 1,000-person Ziff workforce. He also shut down the consumer title Family PC
and Zcast.tv, which had been billed as the "next generation news channel."Despite the shutdown of Zcast.tv, sources said Dunning wanted to continue building a Web strategy, and that proved to be his undoing. "He wouldn't back away from the Web strategy, and that's what killed him," said one industry observer. Willis Stein also announced that it is not seeking a buyer for its consumer magazines, Yahoo! Internet Life
and Expedia Travels.
Dunning had reportedly put both titles in play. Roland DeSilva, a managing partner in the media investment banking firm DeSilva & Phillips Inc., said "Market conditions are certainly very difficult and in times like this changes are made. I think Jim was caught in the vortex, but his presence will be felt in publishing for years to come." Moody's Investors Service recently downgraded its outlook for Ziff's high-yield debt to "negative" despite a new credit agreement the company was able to get from its banks.