Ken Braddick's Perspective on UPI

Here are some comments from former UPI executive Ken Braddick on his role at UPI during the Ruhe-Geissler days (provided by email courtesy of former Unipresser Jerry McGinn):


"I've had nothing to do with UPI since I left. I have read none of the books, articles, whatever though occasionally someone tells me I'm being berated, maligned, scorned, jeered, stoned and otherwise excoriated for events in which I was allegedly involved although I wasn't even at UPI. That provides me with more reason not to turn over such rocks.

"I'll answer your questions as best I can this once but am not going to get into a debate or a further explanation. My stands on many issues, both pre-Ruhe-Geissler and during their time, have frequently been at considerable personal loss. Most Unipressers were pro-WSG. I have always been fervently non and never joined the WSG. It resulted in threats, intimidation and much abuse (a lot of it anonymous) from the time I was in San Francisco (the entire Guild-covered staff were members until my arrival on being transferred from Saigon) through my crossing the picket lines in New York during the strike in the mid-1970s. My recollection is -- apologies if I'm wrong -- that you were active in the WSG. that was your choice. My choice was different. I mention this because for many people my position about the WSG was cause enough for them to readily accept and even foster the demonization that later occurred.

I was only one of the several division managers in UPI when (Rod) Beaton was president and (H.L.) Stevenson editor in chief. There's no secret of the fact I thought Beaton was a lightweight (although physically large) and Stevenson a lightweight editorially with an extremely parochial and narrow minded view of the world that was shocking for what at the time was a major global wire service and in comparison with predecessors who were of the highest caliber such as Roger Tatarian and some highly capable managers elsewhere in UPI such as Ron Cohen who motivated, protected and otherwise brought out the best in people he worked with.

"The Beaton/Stevenson regime was in inexorable slide downhill, much of it I admit beyond their control because of the Scripps-Howard policy of benign neglect that became a search to turn over the company along with $5 million so as to shed itself (Scripps-Howard management and directors) of the liability they feared, probably rightfully so in light of the destructive generational family wars in Louisville and many other cities.

"I was one of those assigned to liaise with the Reuters prospective takeover. Shortly after that exercise was terminated, I was attending a UPI Edicon, UPI's version of APME/AP board, in New York where the oft-reported incident of me upbraiding Charlie Scripps in an elevator occurred. Despite everything that has been reported, rumored and otherwise told of that incident there are only three people who can testify first hand as to what happened -- Charlie Scripps, his wife and me. H.L. Stevenson and his wife, Bunny, were not even in the lobby when the three of us entered the elevator and neither were they on the floor where there was a late night party where I exited the elevator and the Scripps went on the way to their suite. One of the prime organizers of Edicon panicked upon seeing me leave the elevator with the Scripps and assumed from the end of the conversation that something had been said, but they had no knowledge of what it was. She inadvertently blurted out later to Bunny Stevenson that I had been talking to the Scripps. She told Hubert Lamar who passed along to Beaton a story that did not come from me or the Scripps. Both Scripps said they had no recollection. at lunch the next day, I volunteered to resign if the Scripps were upset.

"Beaton said the Scripps had nothing to say so it would look odd if I resigned for something no one knew anything about.

"A few months later, Nackey Scripps (who was paralyzed in the legs from a Jeep accident, wife of Bill Loeb, Charlie's sister and one of the four Scripps direct generational heirs) called from her home in Pride's Crossing just north of Boston to invite me for lunch. there were two other people present, Richard Mellon Scaife and one of his top lieutenants. Bill was dying of cancer and too sick to get out of bed.

"Anyway, Nackey said that Charlie, as chairman of Scripps, the president and CFO were hellbent on unloading UPI. Nackey said she and Mike Howard were opposed but she was crippled and Howard was having his own problems

"In Denver. she'd enlisted Scaife's help to put together a business plan that would save UPI and asked for my help. I agreed. A lot of work went into it. No matter how the numbers were run, there'd have to be a lot of changes to make it work as a stand-alone business under Scaife's plan.

"He put a lot of thought into it and, though he never said anything to me about his political motives, I assumed he saw his involvement in both a political and business light. Shortly thereafter, Bill Loeb died and Nackey took over as full-time and active publisher of the Manchester (N.H.) Union Leader. involvement with UPI disappeared, too.

"I don't recall that I even passed along much, if anything, to Beaton. In Beaton's defense he was caught between being in charge of a Scripps-Howard asset while knowing his days were numbered. At the same time, Stevenson was running around looking for backers for him to take over. He was unsuccessful.

"I quit UPI in the middle of the year immediately prior to Media News Corp. (Doug Ruhe, Bill Geissler, Bill Alhauser and Tom Haughney) took over. I had no knowledge of the individuals involved or even that a sale was imminent. I quit for completely unrelated and personal reasons to move to South Florida. With about two weeks to go before actually leaving, the MNC takeover was announced. Like other senior managers I was summoned to New York for the meeting with the new owners. Beaton knew he was out and kept a very low profile, letting the MNC guys call the shots without interference from him. A few managers were outrightly hostile to the new owners, some acted as if they alone held the key to the vault where the holy grail of journalism was kept, but the overwhelming majority of managers took a range of positions from wait and see to positive that the years of uncertainty and instability were finally over and this was an opportunity to start afresh. On the way out of the meeting, Bill Geissler introduced himself to me and asked what I thought. I said I thought UPI was very salvageable and there were lots of people in the organization who could make it happen. Both on business side and in news, especially, I said, if the division managers who were in the field, closer to the customers and the everyday business, were given more authority and flexibility in their areas of responsibility. I also said I thought that two-headed monster of major news operations, many duplicative, in New York and Washington was a political and costly nightmare. The national/international news functions should be headquartered in WA, national sports, business/finance news in New York, New York itself justified by the size of the area and events it covered, just like other major bureaus. Geissler volunteered that they'd already decided to move accounting/personnel and other administrative functions out of prime New York city real estate and its high rents to Nashville where all four owners lived.

"My position was a direct in your face assault on the status quo in general and HLS in particular who had worked to consolidate control in New York, opposed the Beaton plan to re-establish division management and otherwise saw himself as the undisputed king.

"Geissler asked me to stay. I said no. I said I was moving to Florida and staying wasn't feasible. He asked if I'd stay in New York for the few weeks remaining in my employment, which I did. Along with a small number of managers, I was asked to help draw up plans to make UPI profitable. UPI was losing more than $1 million a month at the time and Scripps had given MNC $5 million. It clearly wasn't going to last long.

"I did in fact stay on for a few months longer. Once the plans were made, they then had to be implemented. Everyone else involved was at UPI for the long haul. I was still bent on leaving after 15 years. It was easier to make someone not there a scapegoat, blame someone who is no longer able to defend themselves.

"There were three major undertakings, each of which would cause high anxiety and considerable unpopularity: WSG-UPI labor negotiations that were essential to change the rules to allow the New York-Washington-Nashville changes, effect reductions that would enable UPI to make ends meet from revenues and to realize cash gains from non-performing assets that would give UPI an opportunity to build for the future.

"WSG came first. The then VP-personnel was appointed to lead the UPI team. I was one of three other management team members. The first internal fight came quickly when the WSG negotiators demanded changes that, in effect, barred discrimination for virtually any reason. it was seen by all as providing equal rights to all employees, particularly gay employees, many of whom felt they had been discriminated against.

"VP-personnel and other senior UPI managers opposed this. We had an internal showdown in which I went to WSG and said we would work out language to give effect to what they wanted. VP personnel demanded I withdraw the offer or he would quit. I refused. He quit. I informed the WSG UPI management's goal was to effect changes in NX-WA and NV that would lead to some downsizing that would not lead to more work but end duplicative functions, etc. WSG negotiated for pay raises and other aspects of the reorganization. The WSG got most of what it wanted. So did UPI.

"Simultaneously with this, I negotiated the sale of the marketing rights of the UPI photo library, which had always lost money, to Kraus-Thomson organization, the sale to Knight Ridder of UPI's half of the money-hemorrhaging Unicom joint venture with Knight Ridder. They provided sufficient cash for UPI to meet payroll while a new Washington bureau and a new Nashville administrative center were being built.

"Throughout all of this, most of the division managers and some of the newly appointed veeps (such as John Mantle for sales) had done an incredible job of not only upgrading contracts for more revenue but also getting many owners/publishers on side.

"Then came the most horrific task: implementing the actual transfers, layoffs, etc. pretty much everyone agreed it would turn the company around financially with minimal disruption.

"However, as UPI had not previously gone through a reorganization in the lifetime of most employees, no one wanted to actually be responsible for it, including the new owners; Doug Ruhe in particular wanted to be seen as the savior without getting his hands dirty. Bill Geissler was considerably more understanding and, as he was the member of the board who had been charged with getting this done, was more willing to take heat.

"It fell to me as the one with the least to lose (except my reputation) to actually undertake the firings. I was definitely not staying so, the argument, went, I didn't have to be concerned about future relationships within UPI. I did so. For that, maybe justifiably, I was demonized. I insisted then on leaving; Geissler asked me to stay on long enough to complete the NX-WA-NV functional changes. I ended up taking a job in an unrelated entity and simultaneously completed the physical (not personnel) changes at UPI but as an outside consultant.

"All of these events resulted for the first time for decades (the old news releases will tell you how many) revenue exceeded expenses. the future for UPI looked rosy.

"I moved on. My salary was the same I'd received from the old UPI when I was UPI New England division manager with a one-time bonus of $2,000 for working 24/7 to come up with the millions in asset dispositions that kept the ship afloat.

"I was not a UPI employee when, with the money coming in sufficient to cover costs, Ruhe started bringing in people he appointed to senior positions in both editorial and general management. I won't name names because some of them were good people. Generally, though, the savings that had been achieved with much agony were pissed away. At the same time, some of the old and some of the new managers were into their own power trips; others were trying to protect their positions. I saw much of what was going on because I traveled constantly between Nashville/Washington/New York for UPI and many other cities on non-UPI business. I had an office in Nashville (non-UPI space) and personally witnessed the procession of personalities.

"Obviously, I see this from my perspective. as many WSG members wasted no opportunity to tell me over the years, I should be thankful for the WSG because they had won what I was enjoying. Maybe, maybe not.

"However, one thing I will say that may be self-serving but may also give some pause to those who are quick to condemn (Terry Schmidt told me in a recent e-mail that there had been Braddick-bashing not too long ago): I was certainly not widely admired in San Francisco, to put it mildly from my several months there when I (and my wife and two small children) were personally threatened, frequently by middle of the night anonymous phone calls. Yet, my recollection is that the original reorganization did not adversely affect a single individual in San Francisco or the then Pacific Division, which was close to true throughout most of UPI outside the NX-WA axis. Of the individuals (senior managers only) as distinct from job functions that were terminated under that reorganization, not a single one was placed on the list by me. the two most prominent examples, were, in fact, placed on the list by Doug Ruhe who charged they had been uncooperative and rude when MNC first took over.

"In short, my role was probably overblown but understandably so in the changes that occurred in a very short period of time and in which I was seen to be a key player. Until Ruhe hired them, I didn't know Luis Nogales, Bill Small, Max McCrohon or any of the dozens of other folks that were brought in. Nogales was brought in specifically because I did not want a larger management role early on in the MNC time and he was presented as the new face of UPI. Although I saw him frequently in Washington and Nashville, I had long departed from the scene. Within about six months of MNC taking over UPI, I was out of UPI, and six months further on all relationships with Ruhe-Geissler were severed.

"Methinks I'm credited, blamed whatever for too much in too short a time. I guess I was one hell of a lightning rod."