Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Freedom Forum discloses management shake-up; Ken Paulson is out as president and chief operator

Talk about burying the lede!

All signs now point to former USA Today Editor Ken Paulson (left) leaving the No. 2 job at Freedom Forum, the high-profile but financially challenged journalism foundation he joined as president and chief operating officer in December 2008.

A Freedom Forum statement issued late this afternoon has Chairman and CEO Charles Overby announcing "organizational changes." Among them: "Kenneth A. Paulson, former president of the Freedom Forum and Newseum, was named president and chief executive officer of the First Amendment Center in Nashville, Tenn., where he previously served as executive director."

Former president?

Meanwhile, on the non-profit group's website, we have within the list of officers no change in his title: "Ken Paulson is president and chief operating officer of the Freedom Forum, Newseum and Diversity Institute." Ditto for the list of governing trustees. [Updated at 11:41 a.m. ET on Aug. 12: Freedom Forum has now changed Paulson's title on its website to reflect his new job.]

A $665,927 job
Overby's statement lists promotions for a number of other employees, but never clarifies the status of Paulson's (former?) position. If Paulson's gone, has the powerful post -- and its six-figure salary -- been eliminated? Paulson's predecessor, another top USAT editor, Peter Prichard, got paid $665,927 in 2008, the most recent year available. That included a special $225,000 bonus.

Longtime Gannett Blog readers know retired Gannett Chairman and CEO Al Neuharth launched Freedom Forum in 1991, with a $650 million endowment from the old Gannett Foundation, the company's charitable arm. Overby and many of the other officers have long ties to Gannett as well.

Based in Washington, D.C., the group is one of the largest charitable foundations devoted to supporting journalism. But its endowment has been sinking -- and its mortgage debt load rising -- amid the broader decline in stock markets.

Its signature project is the Newseum, a Washington museum about news that has had a series of layoffs in recent years. The Newseum opened in spring 2008, three years late, and $200 million over initial cost projections, foundation documents show.

Read their tax returns
Salaries, bonuses and other expenses for Freedom Forum and the Newseum are disclosed in their annual IRS tax returns for 2008, the most recent year available under federal open-records law. I've now added them to a Google Documents site, where you can read and download them for free. Here's Freedom Forum's 83-page return. And here's the Newseum's 64-page return.

Earlier: As Freedom Forum stumbles on big Newseum bet, documents reveal spending often veered far afield

Can anyone clear up this mystery? Please post your replies in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, write jimhopkins[at]gmail[dot-com]; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the rail, upper right.


  1. Never thought Ken was much of a leader, at least not while he was at USAT. Too hands on in a few areas, and too hands off in most others. We're still feeling the impact of his oversights. Nice enough guy but just didn't mind the store properly.

    BTW, the Newseum, like the Crystal Palace, is another ego-driven waste of money. Look at all the cash wasted on the original site in Arlington. In light of current economic conditions (and GCI cutbacks), it's even more aggravating to recall some of the lavish spending associated with this company over the years.

  2. Even when Paulson was USAT editor, he gave off a strong semi-retired vibe, which wasn't very helpful as the paper was trying to right its course after the Jack Kelley debacle. I'm guessing now he wants to be "semi-retired" in his hometown, and the same buddies who were helping him inflate his lifeboat while he was telling the USAT staff that the ship was taking on water but in no danger of sinking are probably being equally accommodating.

  3. has anyone ever noticed that Gannett is not listed at all in the Newseum!!! Not a single time!! I think its so weird with Big AL used GCI money and did not have Gannett as a Sponser

  4. You sure Paulson's not moving on to Cleveland - and the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame? Seemed like that's where he had the Newseum going - first an endless Woodstock exhibit, then they move out the journalism displays to make room for Elvis' jeweled cape. I wonder if the Newseum is considering bringing in a professional museum leader, who actually might focus the place on its original purpose. The place just won't survive, and will continue to have no real reason to be, if it continues to be led by pastured Gannett execs.

  5. 10:20am, speaking of corporate sponsors and donors, what amazes me is how I've never seen GCI listed anywhere, in general, in the Washington, DC metro area for a charitable event, fundraiser, hospital, etc. Since they think of themselves as being a local corporate leader, what a disgrace.

  6. speaking to 12:56 PM Gannett basicaly built the newseum I was wanting to know if any knew why Al did not mention Gannett inside the building for giving the 600 million from the fondation.

  7. Given that Al was able to transfer most of the original Gannett Foundation money to his new Freedom Forum enterprise, which built the Newseum, the feeling in corporate must have been we already GAVE! (To say the least).

  8. During a visit to the Newseum in spring 2009, I asked about a half-dozen employees whether they had heard of Gannett or the Gannett Foundation. Not a single one did.

  9. GCI's reputation in the local community is scum. At my annual physical this week, my doctor (whose office is located in Fairfax County, VA) asked if they were still in business!

  10. @8:51: Oh, please. Your doctor just happens to be up on the news, so he knows that newspaper organizations are in trouble. Mine asks me each time in the most cheerful manner if I still have a job. So it has nothing to do with "GCI's reputation in the local community being scum." That's just wishful thinking on your part.

  11. 10:15: He wasn't speaking in regard to (or trashing) the newspaper industry, he was referring to top GCI management and the Board - and he formerly lived in the tony neighborhood of several top suits. There's no ill will wishful thinking on his part or mine, but face the music if you believe you have a job at GCI indefinitely.

  12. More than half the people who ask me about work and/or Gannett can't even pronounce the name right, but they do know that's the entity that has shrunk the newspaper and the staff. And they sure don't like the results of the shrinkage. And no one I know has EVER told me how wonderful the videos on our Web site are, for example, so I wonder why in the world we still think the Web is our saviour.

  13. @9:06, excellent point, succinctly put. @12:15, thanks for clarifying.

  14. Paying this guy more than half a million bucks? I gotta ask: for what?

  15. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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