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USA Today publisher retiring amid newspaper tumult

Craig Moon

Craig Moon

NEW YORK – USA Today Publisher Craig Moon will retire April 17, becoming the second top executive to leave the nation’s best-selling newspaper this year.

Moon’s retirement, announced Tuesday, will come slightly more than two months after USA Today’s editor, Ken Paulson, left for a nonprofit group that promotes free speech.

USA Today is temporarily filling the vacuum from its own staff.

Myron Maslowsky, the newspaper’s top financial executive, will take on Moon’s responsibilities until USA Today owner Gannett Co., which also owns the Tucson Citizen, names a new publisher. John Hillkirk has been the newspaper’s acting editor since Paulson left Feb. 1.

The management disruption comes at a critical time for USA Today. Like newspapers across the country, it is trying to cope with a jarring drop in advertising revenue that has triggered layoffs, unpaid furloughs and concern about the 27-year-old publication’s direction.

Gannett announced Jan. 16 it was selling “assets” of the Citizen, which it defined as the Internet domain, the archives and lists of advertisers and subscribers. If it’s not sold, the paper will close.

Moon, 59, told The Associated Press that he is ending his six-year stint as USA Today’s publisher so he can pursue possible investments in the newspaper industry.

“Certainly, there are a lot of challenges out there, but to me there are also more and more opportunities being created,” Moon said. “I am looking at numerous opportunities right now.” Without providing specifics, he said he hopes to make his next move before the end of the year.

Moon received a $600,000 salary in 2007, according to regulatory documents listing Gannett’s five highest-paid executives that year. Moon didn’t make that list in Gannett’s latest compensation breakdown, filed in March, but the company said last year that Moon asked for his salary to remain $600,000 in 2008.

In last year’s filing, Gannett estimated Moon had accumulated a $3.7 million retirement package as of December 2007 when he had 22 years of service with the McLean, Va.-based company. The estimate included pension benefits totaling $3.3 million and some awards tied to Gannett’s stock price, which has tumbled by more than 90 percent since 2007.

Gannett shares dipped 6 cents, 2.65 percent, to $2.20 on Tuesday.

Since Moon became publisher, USA Today’s circulation has remained fairly stable — a rarity among U.S. newspapers in recent years. USA Today’s circulation stood at nearly 2.3 million, according to the most recent figures for 2008, just a shade under its peak of 2.34 million in 2004 when the newspaper raised its newsstand price by a quarter, to 75 cents. The newspaper raised its price to $1 per copy in late 2008.

But the higher circulation revenue hasn’t been enough to offset USA Today’s advertising downturn.

Gannett’s revenue from print advertising plunged 16 percent, or $792 million, last year, with USA Today accounting for some of that erosion. As a whole, print advertising throughout the U.S. newspaper industry last year plummeted nearly 18 percent, or a total of $7.5 billion, according to the Newspaper Association of America.

The decline has worsened as more advertisers have poured more money into less expensive alternatives on the Internet and the recession has shrunk marketing budgets.

Moon said USA Today’s well-known brand and talented staff will enable the newspaper to thrive again.

“We have had a lot of success in the past and I don’t think that success has had had a lot to with the people leading the paper. It had to do with the rank and file,” Moon said. “Gannett will find a new leader and I firmly believe USA Today won’t miss a beat.”

Citizen Online Archive, 2006-2009

This archive contains all the stories that appeared on the Tucson Citizen's website from mid-2006 to June 1, 2009.

In 2010, a power surge fried a server that contained all of videos linked to dozens of stories in this archive. Also, a server that contained all of the databases for dozens of stories was accidentally erased, so all of those links are broken as well. However, all of the text and photos that accompanied some stories have been preserved.

For all of the stories that were archived by the Tucson Citizen newspaper's library in a digital archive between 1993 and 2009, go to Morgue Part 2

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