Star Search: A Closer Look at Star Publisher Mark Zieman’s Ascension


There’s something to be said for being in the exact right place at the exact right time…

Such appears to be the case with Star publisher Mark Zieman. The Star announced yesterday Zieman is being promoted to VP at the newspaper’s embattled parent company, McClatchy.

Some newsies say they’re surprised at the promotion, given Zieman’s lack of business experience.

Zieman has only three years working the business end of the newspaper. He was appointed publisher in 2008.  And as for the Rockhurst "Executive MBA" the newspaper is touting, Zieman picked that up on the night school plan a handful of years back.

Second, there’s a reason the Star has fared better than many newspapers in the current catastrophic three-year downturn, insiders note:

"Kansas City has always been pretty stable and profitable compared to other newspapers. Kansas City and Ft. Worth were (always) the highest perfroming papers at Knight-Ridder."

So nothing new there on the Star outperforming other McClatchy papers in the current downturn.

As KCC contributor Jim Fitzpatrick notes on jimmycsays, recent adjustments to how newspaper circulation is measured have allowed the Star to inch back above the 300,000 mark for its all-important Sunday paper and 214,000 weekdays.

But let’s put those numbers in perspective…

Under the Star‘s previous stewardship, daily circulation ran from 270,000 to 275,000 with Sunday at 375,000. Sans any help from the tweaked measuring that brought Sunday back from 290,000 circulation.

So while Zieman may look good to McClatchy, he’s clearly the beneficiary of the Star’s historic stability, insiders say.

Now let’s look at some of the highlights that, were McClatchy not reeling from its current financial woes, might not have boded so well for Zieman, certainly not under the previous management.

1) Making a seven-figure losing deal to print the now-defunct Rise Up weekly. Sources say the Star won the printing bid for Rise Up because it was the only bidder not to require cash up front – a costly mistake.

2) Zieman’s wife’s embarassing DUI bust and his cover-up of the incident in 2009, as reported by the Pitch.

3) The poorly handled, three-month long Jason Whitlock exit episode last year.

4) Accusations by Whitlock that Star editor Mike Fannin had been having an "inappropriate relationship" with sports editor Holly Lawton. The Star never responded publicly to the charges, but Lawton submitted her resignation shortly thereafter. And sources said at the time that had Knight Ridder still owned the paper, an investigation would have been launched by corporate.

5) Reports by KCC of Fannin’s unreported DUI – his second – and an assault conviction in Texas. Combine that with Fannin’s claim that he warned Zieman of his checkered past when initially turning down Zieman’s offer to make him editor. Fannin quietly served two days slam time, three days of house arrest and a year’s probation with a drug and alcohol treatment center on the second DUI.

Does any of this mean Zieman is unqualified for his new post?

No. But it does call into question whether he’d even have been under consideration were it not for the financial freefall parent company McClatchy has been caught up in since practically Day One of its acquisition of the Star and more than a dozen other Knight Ridder papers.

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15 Responses to Star Search: A Closer Look at Star Publisher Mark Zieman’s Ascension

  1. It's not all bad says:

    Gary B. Pruitt, Chairman, President and CEO, The McClatchy Company
    May 18, 2011, Sacramento, California

    Much of McClatchy’s work over the past year, while reflected in the results I’m about to share with you, has been focused on our future. We are, quite simply, working hard today for a better tomorrow.

    And we’ve made important progress to that end. As you’ll see, McClatchy continues its transformation into a hybrid print and digital media company that serves diverse audiences on multiple platforms. By re-engineering our company today, we ensure our future and the continuation of a 154-year legacy of public service.


  2. Hearne says:

    I’ll meet you and I’ll raise you…
    McClatchy Reports First Quarter 2011 Results

    Released: 04/26/2011
    SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The McClatchy Company (NYSE: MNI) today reported a net loss in the first quarter of 2011 of $2.0 million or 2 cents per share. In the first quarter of 2010 the company reported a net loss from continuing operations of $2.0 million, or 2 cents per share, and total net income including discontinued operations of $2.2 million or 3 cents per share.

    Revenues in the first quarter of 2011 were $303.7 million, down 9.5% from the first quarter of 2010. Advertising revenues were $225.1 million, down 11.0% from 2010, and circulation revenues were $66.2 million, down 5.0%. Digital advertising revenues grew 2.2% in the first quarter of 2011 and were 20.1% of total advertising revenues compared to 17.5% of total advertising revenues in the first quarter of 2010.

    Cash operating expenses, excluding severance associated with restructuring plans, declined $16.4 million, or 6.5%, from the 2010 quarter. Operating cash flow, a non-GAAP measure, was $66.5 million in the first quarter of 2011 (non-GAAP measurements are discussed below) compared to $81.9 million in 2010.

    Results in the first quarter of 2011 included the following items:

    Impairment charges of $10.3 million ($6.5 million after-tax) recorded in other operating expenses related to the value of real estate assets sold for less than carrying value. Proceeds from the sale of these assets totaling $7.1 million were received in the second quarter and the value of the assets were written down to the sales price resulting in the first quarter charge to earnings.
    A gain of $1.9 million ($1.2 million after-tax) for additional cash received on a previously sold internet asset.
    Severance charges totaling $4.5 million ($2.4 million after-tax) related to continued restructuring of the company’s newspaper operations.
    A loss on the extinguishment of debt totaling $1.3 million ($0.8 million after-tax), primarily reflecting the non-cash write-off of discounts related to bonds repurchased in the open market.
    A positive adjustment to the company’s net loss totaling $9.9 million for a favorable tax settlement related to state tax positions previously taken. A tax benefit of $7.6 million was recognized and related interest expense was reduced by $3.7 million ($2.3 million after-tax).

    The net impact of these items was to decrease McClatchy’s loss in the first quarter of 2011 by $1.4 million to the reported amount of $2.0 million.

    Management’s Comments:

    Commenting on McClatchy’s results, Gary Pruitt, chairman and chief executive officer, said, “The slowing in advertising revenue that we previously reported for January continued through the first quarter. National advertising continued to be one of the largest areas of decline, falling by 29.3% in the first quarter of 2011 compared to 2010. In addition, the shifting of the Easter holiday to a later date in April 2011 compared to 2010 had a negative impact on retail advertising in March. As a result advertising in March was down 12.7%, pulling down the overall ad revenues in the quarter to an 11.0% decline.

    “Our digital advertising revenue grew 2.2% in the first quarter. Importantly, our digital-only advertising (digital advertising not sold as a part of a bundled sale with print) increased 10.2% in the first quarter of 2011 compared to 2010. Total digital advertising represented 20.1% of our advertising revenue in the first quarter, up from 17.5% in the first quarter of 2010.

    “Our valuable equity investments continued to perform well in the first quarter of 2011. Our share of income from all equity interests was $3.2 million compared to a loss of $1.0 million in the first quarter of 2010.

    “In response to this year’s weak start in advertising, we have increased our ad sales efforts companywide and have initiated expense cuts.

    “In the first four weeks of the April fiscal period, advertising revenues are down approximately 9%.

    “We expect cash costs to be down in the mid-single-digit percentage range in the second quarter of 2011 despite increases in newsprint prices year-over-year. And we look forward to using our cash flow in the second quarter to further reduce debt outstanding.”

    Pat Talamantes, McClatchy’s chief financial officer, said, “We were pleased to be able to reduce debt by $20.6 million in the first quarter to $1.75 billion, despite large cash outlays for interest costs in the quarter. We repurchased $28.4 million of bonds using cash from operations and a small draw on our revolving line of credit. Our financial condition continues to be solid. Our leverage ratio as defined under our credit agreement was 4.71 times cash flow at the end of the quarter and our interest coverage ratio was 2.25 times cash flow. Both of these measures are well within the amounts required to be in compliance with our credit agreement.”

  3. so what? says:

    Ok, great. You’re obsessed with the short-term and McClatchy is looking long-term, as any company should. The Star is a big money maker. Why not turn Zieman loose on the whole company?

    The hoary points you trot out at the end are of interest to you and only you. Nobody else. Zieman said yesterday The Star is still on the high ground in this town. Now I know what he meant.

  4. jjskck says:

    Circulation Numbers
    Is there a place online where one can track the Star’s circulation numbers over the years? I’d be curious to see what the numbers have been historically.

  5. Jim Fitzpatrick says:

    It’s a bit difficult to find, jjskck, but….
    If you’re willing to make a long-distance call, you can contact Kammi Altig, communications manager for the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), a newspaper trade group based in Arlington Heights, IL. The main number for ABC is (224) 366-6939. She might be able to help you find those past numbers.

  6. bschloz says:

    Fast Money
    McClatchy Company
    (NYSE: MNI ) Last Trade: $2.76
    Key stats
    Total Cash : 4.30M
    Total Debt : 1.69B
    Short % of Float (as of Apr 29, 2011): 61.00% Oyveysmere
    KC STAR is probably best property they have. Hope Z didn’t take any options.

  7. smartman says:

    What’s B/W and RED all over
    Holy Shit! I thought the first two posts were another harley-jo rant until I realized there were no CAPS and no mispelled words. But they were both full of BULLSHIT so I had to reconsider.

    Classic examples of dodge, duck, defer, deny, deflect. Bullshit PR, MBA, CEO, ENRON-Speak. Here’s a non-GAAP principle. How much did you motherfuckers take in? How much did it cost to do that? How much is left over?

    Holy Fuck! Enough with all the Lloyd Blankfein, God’s Work gobbledeegook bullshit you commie lib, nanny state, union blowing, democrat rimming, Pelosi worshipping, Yael Aboul-ca-ca, Lou Grant wanna be cunts.

    We can handle the TRUTH. Why can’t you just fucking print it? If the fucking Star were any more slanted to the left it’d be a Chi-Com rag.

    Quality journalism my ass. You can’t say that with a straight face when you employ mindless drivel writing fucks like Penn and Hendricks, among others.

    The Star has fucked Kansas City so much we don’t even need lube to take it up the pooper anymore. Our socio-political sphincter is stretched out like a sows vagina after giving birth.

    Brisbane, Zieman, swallow my semen. If there is a hell I’ll see you there. I’ll pop your eyeballs out with my thumbs and shit inside your empty skulls.

  8. Mobo says:

    Your job has ended Hearne
    Hey Hearne, where is your night school degree?

    And this place is turning into Hearne’s sour grapes that aren’t so confidential.


    Research being the basis of good journalism and all, if you had bothered to look up McClatchy’s proxy statements you’d have noticed the guy he’s replacing makes $1,000,000 a year plus.

    This doesn’t need much of a closer look at all.

  10. Hearne Christopher says:

    Huh. That’s funny you could have skipped right over this interesting-only-to-me post. But instead you not only read it but commented. And btw, Mark didn’t say anything about being on the “high ground,” he said the Star was still the dominant news and advertising organization in town.

    There’s a difference.

    Of course they remain dominant. Who else comes close? Unless something ridiculously dramatic happens they will remain dominant in news and probably advertising – even after the days of newsprint fade to but a distant memory.

    All that’s going on now is the Star is right-sizing itself for the future. There’ll be some ups to go with the downs as the years roll on. But the bottom line is, at this stage of the game, nobody has come up with a way to replace print profits with online profits.

  11. Hearne Christopher says:

    Still working on my night school degree. Thinking about majoring in clever comments writing. You may wanna sign up for that class too

  12. Hearne Christopher says:

    Your take, not mine.

    I didn’t write this to unearth the motivation for Mark accepting the position, dude.

  13. Hearne Fan says:

    “”Reply From: Hearne Christopher
    05:38:46 PM – Thu. May 19. 2011

    Still working on my night school degree. Thinking about majoring in clever comments writing. You may wanna sign up for that class too””


    h, you might be able test out of “CCW 101″… with just that one zinger right there……

    Didnt there used to be an online correspondence course offered by Mad Magizine called “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions” I am not sure if it is still available, but maybe…..

  14. Mark X says:

    … nice one, smartman …
    …ROFLMAO… one of your BEST …

  15. BarKeeper says:

    Star Reeks
    This rag reeks of liberal puke with every issue. It’s been years since they approached a story with any balance.

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