Kenneth Paulson Takes Over Embattled National Daily Paper

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Gannett Co. yesterday named a new editor for its flagship daily newspaper, USA Today, which has been embarrassed by discovery that one of its top reporters fabricated his stories.

Craig Moon, the newspaper's publisher,

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introduced staffers to the new editor, Kenneth A. Paulson. The introduction was necessary, some staffers said, because few on hand could recognize Mr. Paulson, who came from the First Amendment Center, where he was executive director. He last worked at a daily in 1996, when he left Gannett Suburban Newspapers in Westchester County, N.Y., after four years. He had been executive editor for news, and had also spent time at USA Today when it launched in the 1980s.

Abrupt resignation
Mr. Paulson, 50, replaces Karin Jurgensen, who resigned abruptly from the nation's largest newspaper last week after additional fabrications its former star reporter, Jack Kelley, wrote came to light.

Judging from his comments in an interview, of paramount concern to Mr. Paulson is the fallout from the plagarism scandal, as well as the results of an internal investigation into the Kelly stories that found a "culture of fear" was "alive and sick in the News section."

"This newspaper needs to accomplish two things in relatively short order," Mr. Paulson told Adage.com. "The newsroom needs better overall communication, and secondly, we need to establish safeguards to ensure the accuracy and integrity of the news report."

He added that "the challenge [for USA Today] has been to develop greater enterprise and more investigative reporting and in-depth work. We've seen great progress on that in the last few years and we will build on that."

Internal candidates
Mr. Moon in an earlier statement had said the paper sought an editor from within Gannett's far-flung chain of dailies, which led to the names of three top Gannett editors being bounced around the newsroom: the Detroit News' Mark Silverman; the Louisville Courier-Journal's Bennie Ivory; and the Arizona Republic's Ward Bushee. Mr. Paulson had not been mentioned, and a USA Today spokesman declined to comment on other candidates for Mr. Paulson's post.

In his first remarks to the staff, Mr. Paulson conceded the paper had suffered a "black eye" with the Jack Kelley situation, but said it would recover. "He talked about all the right things," said Peter Eisler, an investigative reporter who's been at the paper since 1995. Mr. Eisler added Mr. Paulson "made it clear the paper isn't going to be dismantled" in the wake of the Kelley situation.

Other changes
Changes in editorial management were also announced. Executive Editor Peter Gallagher, who had taken over running the paper after Ms. Jurgensen left, will now edit the editorial page. John Hillkirk, who edited the paper's report on Jack Kelley's misdeeds and who was the managing editor of the Money section, will replace Mr. Gallagher as executive editor. Carol Stevens moved over from editorial page editor to become managing editor of the front News section. She replaces Hal Ritter, who also resigned last week.

Mr. Hilliard said, "In the aftermath of the Kelley situation, we want to make this a more collegial, collaborative place."

In addition to his editorial posts within Gannet, which also includes a stint at Florida Today, he also served as chief of staff to Gannett's former chairman and USA Today's guiding spirit, Allen H. Neuharth, and is a senior vice president at Mr. Neuharth's Freedom Forum. The Freedom Forum is a independent, nonpartisan journalism organization dedicated to the study and promotion of the principles of a free press and free speech in America. Headquartered in Washington, it also operates the "Newseum," a museum focused on the history of journalism and mass communications technology.

First Amendment Center
The First Amendment Center was founded by USA Today's first editorial director, John Seigenthaler, who was one of three eminence grises of newspapering tapped by USA Today to draft a report on Mr. Kelley's misdeeds. All this allowed Mr. Paulson to work closely with the two figures that loom large in USA Today's and Gannett's recent history.

Mr. Paulson dismissed concerns that he had spent nearly a decade away from daily newspapers. "Newspapers are so insular. We promote cynical reporters, who become cynical city editors and then cynical managing editors," he said. "We too rarely get out in the community and get a sense of what people are saying."

"This was a very healthy break away," he said. "It gave me a renewed perspective."

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