Michael J. Davies, publisher of The Baltimore Sun since 1990, announced yesterday he is resigning next month and moving to New York to spend more time with his wife, a television anchor.
In a brief letter to employees, Mr. Davies said his departure had been agreed upon last summer but delayed to permit "a smooth transition." Times Mirror Corp. of Los Angeles, The Baltimore Sun's parent company, did not announce a successor and said Mr. Davies will serve as publisher until March 15 and may continue to serve as a consultant to the media conglomerate after that.
Times Mirror President David Laventhol said in a statement that Mr. Davies has "made a very significant contribution" in his years at The Sun and in his previous seven years as publisher of the Hartford Courant in Connecticut, also owned by Times Mirror. The statement said The Baltimore Sun's senior vice presidents will report to Richard T. Schlosberg III, Times Mirror's group vice president for newspapers, until a new publisher is named.
"We have a very experienced team in place and don't see any need to rush the search," said Martha H. Goldstein, director of corporate communications for Times Mirror.
Mr. Davies, 48, has presided over a tumultuous two years at The Sun and The Evening Sun, introducing an ambitious expansion of suburban coverage, opening a $180 million printing plant in Port Covington, reducing staff with an employee buyout program and merging the news staffs of the morning and evening papers. The moves were seen by some industry analysts as necessary to cope with the recession and to compete with suburban newspapers for advertising and local news coverage.
"I think Michael Davies was pulling off moves that may be painful but absolutely are necessary," said Kenneth T. Berents, a newspaper industry analyst with Alex. Brown & Sons. "The newspaper industry has to make changes and Michael Davies saw that early on."
Reese Cleghorn, dean of the University of Maryland College of Journalism, said Mr. Davies oversaw a period of extraordinary change at the newspapers. "There have been obvious difficulties that any publisher would have had in going through such major, fundamental changes," he said, mentioning the new plant, the zoned suburban editions and the staff buyout. "I just think he had a rocky time, just as any publisher probably would have had."
In his letter to the staff, Mr. Davies expressed regret that business pressures dominated his 30 months at the newspapers.
"In retrospect, it's too bad that most of our efforts were spent in trying to overcome the recession," he wrote. "Like most businesses, we had to get our costs in line with sharply reduced revenues. It was painful, but we did it. Now, The Sun is well positioned to take advantage of an economic rebound."
He called his resignation "professionally . . . very difficult" but "personally . . . the right thing for me to do." Mr. Davies' wife, Cynthia McFadden, is anchor for the cable network Court TV.
"I'm not sure what I'll end up doing in New York, although there are several interesting possibilities," Mr. Davies' letter said. "I might even try my hand at writing a book."
Rumors of Mr. Davies' departure surfaced months ago, but they went unconfirmed until yesterday's announcement.
In a brief interview, Mr. Davies called his departure voluntary and said it had been delayed mainly to permit him to oversee the first phase of Sunburst, a plan to provide separate local sections in each metropolitan area county, with the sections containing local advertisements and much more detailed coverage of community news.
The new sections were added in Anne Arundel, Howard and Carroll counties last fall, while introduction of expanded local sections elsewhere was postponed pending an improved economic climate, company officials have said. Mr. Davies said yesterday that he believed the Anne Arundel and Howard sections were "a wild success," producing higher circulation and advertising lineage, while the Carroll section would require "some adjustments."
Since Mr. Davies' arrival in September 1990, The Baltimore Sun has steadily lost advertising lineage and circulation in a recession that has hit every major U.S. newspaper hard.
Average daily circulation of The Sun and Evening Sun has declined 15 percent since 1990, from 407,735 in 1990 -- very close to the 1987 all-time peak of just over 408,000 -- to 348,491 last year, according to a company spokeswoman. Sunday circulation fell from 496,007 in 1990 to 488,272 in 1991 and held steady at 488,527 last year.
Part of the circulation drop resulted from price increases that increased the cost of a daily newsstand copy from 25 cents to 50 cents. In addition, some people who subscribed to both The Sun and The Evening Sun have canceled one or the other as the two papers have carried more of the same stories.