Samuel Martin, the last African American Publisher of Gannett, Announces Resignation

Samuel Martin, the last remaining African American publisher at the Gannett Co., Inc., the nation’s largest newspaper group, resigned Monday as president and publisher of the Advertiser Media Group, which publishes the Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser, the newspaper announced.

“I’m going to step back and sort of assess what I want to do with the rest of my life,” Martin, 53, told Journal-isms by telephone. “It’s a tough industry to be in right now. I still believe in newspapers . . . but we still have a lot to do, resetting this model.”

Martin’s resignation was announced on the Advertiser’s website in a story containing a brief comment from Leslie Hurst, publisher of the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., and vice president of Gannett’s South Group. “I will make frequent trips and be onsite until we name a new president,” Hurst told Advertiser staffers in a meeting Monday, the story said.

“I know Sam meant a lot to many of you, as he does to me, and he will be missed,” she said, the newspaper reported.

Other losses of high-ranking African Americans in recent years have also come in the Gannett South Group: Don Hudson, managing editor of the Clarion-Ledger, and Rod Richardson, who held the same title at the Times in Shreveport, La., both laid off in 2010; Ronnie Agnew, executive editor of the Clarion-Ledger for nine years, who left in 2011; and this year, Martin and Wanda Lloyd, who retired this year as executive editor of the Advertiser.

Gannett also is losing Arthur Harper, believed to be the sole person of color on its board of directors, effective in May. However, USA Today, the Gannett flagship property, named Derek J. Murphy its executive vice president and general manager in February.

Gannett publishers have been under pressure to keep profits up. Jim Hopkins, writing about the annual shareholder’s proxy report last month for his Gannett Blog, told readers, “The report covers a year when the company’s finances grew more stable, and its share price jumped. Annual revenue last year rose 2.2% to $5.4 billion, the first annual increase since 2006.” Total compensation for CEO Gracia Martore jumped to $8.5 million from $4.7 million in 2011.

Martin was senior vice president and chief advertising officer for the Boston Globe when he was named chief executive of the Advertiser in 2010. “I’ve lived in eight cities and six states,” he told Journal-isms. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years.”

Martin worked for Gannett as senior vice president of marketing at the Cincinnati Enquirer from 1999 to 2002, and was advertising director at the News Journal in Wilmington, Del., from 1993 to 1999.

He said his daughters are grown, so he is not wedded to staying in Montgomery, although, Martin said, “There is a charm I found in this community and some wonderful people.”

Meanwhile, Digital First Media CEO John Paton said his company had sold Journal Register Co. newspapers as it reinvents itself for the digital age. Reporter Adrienne LaFrance of Digital First Media asked Paton for his philosophy “on how a media company can navigate the space between having a clear vision and executing strategy but also staying iterative and respond to the changes of the industry as they happen.”

Paton replied, “By putting the digital people in charge. I mean, with Jim Brady, for example, in charge of all content, I don’t have anybody with a legacy background there. . . . “

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