New Sun publisher named as Waller sets retirement

Tribune Co. executive Denise E. Palmer to join newspaper in September

July 11, 2002|By Bill Atkinson | Bill Atkinson,SUN STAFF

Denise E. Palmer, president and chief executive officer of a 24-hour cable news station in Chicago, will become publisher of The Sun in September, the newspaper said yesterday.

Palmer will replace Michael E. Waller, 60, who will retire in January after running the paper since October 1997.

Palmer, 45, is scheduled to join The Sun on Sept. 23 and work with Waller, who has been named chairman, until his departure.

She will become the 15th publisher in the history of the 165-year-old newspaper, which has won the Pulitzer Prize 14 times and was started in 1837 by Arunah S. Abell, a journeyman printer who sold the then-tabloid for a penny.

"Denise is a very talented executive," said Dennis J. FitzSimons, president and chief operating officer of Tribune Co., which owns The Sun and the cable news station where Palmer works. "She has experience in a number of areas, both newspapers as well as on the television and radio side. She has a terrific view of the media industry."

People who know Palmer - both inside and outside the company - described her as personable and approachable.

"You just immediately understand she is a good human being with the right motivations in her life," said John Butte, vice president and general manager of the Ohio News Network in Columbus, Ohio. Butte has known Palmer for about three years.

Palmer has headed since February 2000 ChicagoLand Television, CLTV, the city's only all-news cable channel.

Difficult times

She will take over The Sun at a time when the newspaper, like the industry nationwide, is grappling with long-term declines in circulation. The paper's daily circulation has fallen 9.4 percent over the past five years, and Sunday circulation is down 7.5 percent. The paper recently cut costs and reduced staff.

There have been signs of improvement. Sunday circulation has risen to 468,377 as of March 31, up from 465,338 a year earlier, and Wednesday through Saturday circulation is up to 313,129 from 310,743, while Monday and Tuesday circulation is slightly down.

Palmer said her goal is to improve what is already a successful business and journalistic enterprise.

"Certainly, in my mind it is to work with what is already a great newspaper," she said.

One objective, she added, is to help the paper "grow and be even more successful than it has been."

"The market looks like it is robust ... the newspaper looks good and has a long history of being well-respected in its community and in the journalism world," Palmer said.

She said it was too early to tell whether more cost cutting is needed, but she said she will "take a hard look at everything."

FitzSimons said Palmer's charge is to "keep things running well and to observe and make changes where needed and keep the newspaper doing real well," he said.

FitzSimons declined to comment on whether there would be more cost cutting and staff reductions at the paper.

"She [Palmer] does not have any specific mandate other than to run what we feel is a great newspaper now," FitzSimons said. "Denise's job is to strengthen the franchise and allow the financial underpinnings to improve to make sure that the tradition of great journalism at The Sun is continued."

FitzSimons said Waller did an "outstanding" job running the paper. The decision to step down was Waller's, he said.

Tribune acquired The Sun in June 2000 when it bought Los Angeles-based Times Mirror Co. for $8.3 billion. The media company owns 23 major-market television stations; 12 newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and Newsday; a radio station; and the Chicago Cubs professional baseball team.

Different histories

Palmer and Waller have sharply different resumes.

A journalist by training, Waller began his career as sports clerk at the Decatur Herald in Illinois in 1961 and worked as a copy desk chief and editor at several other papers. He later became editor and publisher of the Hartford Courant. He took over as publisher of The Sun in October 1997.

Palmer, who holds a master's degree in management from Northwestern University's J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management, has worked her way up through the financial side of Tribune.

After graduating from the University of Dayton in 1977, Palmer worked as an auditor at accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand. She joined Tribune in 1980 as a corporate auditor and in 1986 was named manager of planning for the company.

Two years later, she transferred to WGN radio in Chicago as director of finance and was promoted to station manager. She became director of finance for the Chicago Tribune in 1994 and worked in a variety of positions, including vice president for development, strategy and finance at the paper with responsibility for accounting, financial reporting, operational and strategic planning and development of new products and services.

Palmer became president and chief executive of CLTV, which has 115 employees, in 2000.

The Baltimore Sun Co. has 1,600 employees, 600 of whom are union members.

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