Miami Herald Publisher David Lawrence Guits

By Nicholson, Joe | Editor & Publisher, August 8, 1998 | Go to article overview

Miami Herald Publisher David Lawrence Guits


Nicholson, Joe, Editor & Publisher


The man who 'was the Miami Herald' to many resigned abruptly last week. He declined to give a reason for the departure. The publisher of El Nuevo Herald has replaced him.

MIAMI HERALD PUBLISHER David Lawrence Jr., who in nine years in south Florida became a larger-than-life newspaperman and community leader, resigned abruptly last week.

Listening in what the Herald described as "stunned disbelief," several hundred of its employees heard Lawrence, 56, announce he was resigning, saying, "I frankly yearn for the opportunity to decide what I want to do with my life."

Four months ago, Lawrence sparked a controversy among the same employees when he announced he had agreed to meet with the state's top Democratic leaders to discuss a possible run for governor. Days later, he withdrew from those talks, saying he felt such an action would be "disloyal to the newspaper."

FOUR PULITZER PRIZES

During his tenure, Lawrence's editorial staff won four Pulitzer prizes, and he earned a reputation as a champion of that staff, fighting to protect it against cost-cutting measures increasingly demanded by the parent Knight Ridder chain. "We have cut a lot of other things, but we have not cut the newsroom staff, and we have not cut the (news hole) space," he noted proudly in an E&P interview last week.

But in recent months, Lawrence faced powerful new pressures from Knight Ridder Inc. to further increase Herald revenues -- or downsize. The demand became more intense as its advertising came under increasing pressure from competitors and a March audit found circulation down about 9,000 to 353,000 weekdays and down about 10,000 to 492,000 Sundays.

"I admit a certain wearying element of all of that," said Lawrence, who insisted commercial pressures did not prompt his resignation.

Tony Ridder, chairman and CEO of Knight Ridder, called Lawrence's decision to resign "disappointing," saying, "Dave poured his heart and soul into the job, and we are indebted to him."

BOYCOTTS AND BOMB THREATS

More than the Pulitzers and a shelf of other awards, Lawrence is likely to be remembered by historians as a journalist who stood his ground against a threat to the First Amendment.

After Lawrence took command of the Knight Ridder flagship, zealots among opponents of Fidel Castro sought to crush the Herald with a boycott. Inspired by the late Jorge Mas Canosa, they bought ads on Miami buses that read "no creo en El Miami Herald" -- I don't believe in the Miami Herald.

Although the Cuban dictator attacked the Herald as an opponent to his regime and refused to grant visas to its reporters, some anti-Castro activists claimed the Herald sympathized with communism, and Lawrence got death threats.

"For 3 1/2 years, I started my car by remote control because Miami police and the FBI said, 'You need to be careful,'" said Lawrence. "We were certainly under siege from some hard right elements."

NEW HERALD PUBLISHER NAMED

Lawrence's protege Alberto Ibarguen, was named publisher, effective immediately, and designated to replace Lawrence as chairman of the Herald and its Spanish-language sister publication, El Nuevo Herald, at year's end.

Ibarguen, 54, has been publisher of El Nuevo Herald. …

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