Free speech advocate to lead USA Today

Kenneth A. Paulson, former editor, lawyer, replaces Jurgensen

April 30, 2004|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN STAFF

Kenneth A. Paulson, a former newspaper editor, lawyer and free speech advocate, has been picked to lead USA Today in the wake of the worst scandal in the newspaper's nearly 22-year-history.

In an interview, USA Today publisher and President Craig Moon said Paulson's appointment as editor would help the newspaper "continue to build the brand online and in print," and that he would mend the newsroom culture to ensure the "accountability" of the newspaper's reporting. Major changes were not needed, Moon said.

Last week, Karen Jurgensen, editor of the paper, retired after a panel of journalists blisteringly criticized her and other editors for failing to catch fabricated and plagiarized sections of dozens of articles written by former foreign correspondent Jack Kelley. Although fellow reporters had repeatedly questioned the veracity of his stories to editors, their concerns were ignored and Kelley was celebrated instead of reprimanded.

Brian Gallagher, Jurgensen's deputy as executive editor, was named editor of the editorial page. He was replaced by John Hillkirk, the Money section editor, who led the reporting team that did a definitive review of Kelley's work.

Hal Ritter, the managing editor for news, whose management style also was criticized, was replaced by Carol Stevens, the paper's editorial page editor.

Paulson, 50, has edited newspapers owned by USA Today's corporate parent, Gannett Co., in the suburbs of New York City, Green Bay, Wis., and Brevard County, Fla. He was a reporter and editor at USA Today's inception and has served as chief of staff to Al Neuharth, the newspaper's founder and Gannett's former CEO.

Most recently, Paulson served as executive director of the First Amendment Center, which is based at Vanderbilt University and subsidized by the Freedom Forum, a philanthropic organization affiliated with Gannett. He has worked closely there with John Seigenthaler, the newspaper's founding editorial director, who led the panel of three distinguished retired editors who wrote the scathing report about the news editors' failings.

"I honestly think this is the best job in American journalism," Paulson said yesterday of his new position. The newspaper, the nation's largest-circulation daily, had "a black eye these past few weeks, but that black eye will heal," he said.

In a USA Today column, Neuharth declared that the scandal occurred because the newspaper strayed from its early roots of shorter stories about matters closer to home.

At a meeting, staffers challenged Paulson yesterday about whether he would rein in the newspaper's increasingly ambitious aims. USA Today has added foreign bureaus and put a new emphasis on breaking hard news and investigative work.

Paulson said his response at yesterday's meeting was to quote a Bruce Springsteen lyric: "No retreat. No surrender."

Go to to read past coverage of the Jack Kelley scandal at USA Today.

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