Buh-bye, John Zidich

After less than six months at the helm of the daily newspaper, RGJ president and publisher John Zidich is leaving Reno. He’s headed to Phoenix, where he’ll work under former RGJ publisher Sue Clark-Johnson, now chief executive and publisher of The Arizona Republic and senior group president of Gannett Pacific Group.

I’m pretty sure the news caused a stir amongst RGJ editorial staffers, most of whom probably wondered, “John who?”

The news had me flashing back to my former incarnation as RGJ technology editor. I was walking the halls of Reno’s biggest little daily newspaper about a month after Zidich was promoted.

“This is embarrassing,” a co-worker said. “But if you see John Zidich, would you point him out to me? I don’t know what he looks like.”

I’d have happily helped out. But I couldn’t pick Zidich out of a crowd. I’d never seen the man. In fact, I’d often doubted his existence. Sure, he seemed powerful and all-knowing. But if there is a John, I reasoned, surely he’d make himself known to the editorial peons over whom he presided.

“Is he ever going to introduce himself to the people in the newsroom?”

The question came up at staff meetings.

Talented RGJ reporters and editors, who sometimes say that they feel as though their jobs are little more than the incessant packing of words and photos into the dwindling space between advertisements, were told that Zidich was busy, busy, busy.

I ran into a former RGJ advertising account exec at an alternative newspaper convention in San Francisco last weekend before we’d heard the news of Zidich’s departure.

“He’s a good guy, a great dad and husband,” the ad woman told me.

“But we just wanted him to take a walk through the newsroom and say, ‘Hi, how’s it going? I’m John Zidich, your boss,'” I replied. “It would have taken an hour and a half of his life, and it would have meant a huge boost in morale.”

“That’s just not his style,” she replied. This from MediaBistro.com, sent to the RN&R by a very concerned reader:

“[On Sunday], The Arizona Republic became the latest U.S. newspaper (of not many) to allow advertising on its front page. It’s a practice that journalists reflexively hate; the front page is considered sacred territory. But it’s also lucrative and increasingly in demand. And as the Republic’s CEO Sue Clark-Johnson reminds The Christian Science Monitor, newspaper Web sites routinely put banner ads on their home page. So, she asks, ‘What’s the difference?’ “

For those of you with very short memories, this time last year, Johnson was the publisher of the Reno Gazette-Journal. The RGJ’s front page has sported ads for months.

Read the interview with Clark-Johnson in the Monitor’s story, "Get Used To It, Readers; Page 1 Ads," online at www.csmonitor.com/durable/2001/01/25/fp15s1-csm.shtml.