'Top Three UPI Editors Quit'

Here's a story by George Garneau from the Nov. 7, 1987, edition of Editor & Publisher:

United Press International's top three news executives, questioning the news service's "quality and integrity" if proposed staff cuts were made, quit Nov. 3 after only 10 months with the wire service.

The three were hired in hopes of finding the "editor of UPI for the 1990s."

The resignations, effective Nov. 20, of editor Ben Cason, Barry Sussman, managing editor for national news, and Kim Willenson, managing editor for international news, followed financial constraints imposed on news operations by Mario Vazquez Rana, the Mexican publisher who bought the news service from bankruptcy last year for $41 million.

"We take this action with deep regret, but with the conviction that we can no longer assure the quality of the UPI report," the trio said in a message to all bureaus in which they declined to elaborate.

Announcing their departure to UPI's Washington, D.C., newsroom Nov. 3, they said their move was prompted by the proposed layoffs of 300 employees -- a quarter of the staff -- plus their loss of control of editorial expenses. They said they hoped their move would halt the layoffs, which Cason said he was not sure would take place.

A company spokesman has denied the layoffs were planned, but a contract imposed by UPI management last week contained a clause allowing management to make cuts at will.

According to a UPI report, Cason told the staff there was no effort to "tilt the news," but "there have been limits imposed on us."

"Control was removed from us," Willenson said. "Mario Vazquez Rana is making all the decisions."

Cason said Vazquez knew they planned to quit "for a good while," but made no "constructive response."

The three praised UPI's staff for performing "superbly under adverse conditions" and called on the news media to continue to support UPI, which is "vital to the survival of strong competition in American reporting." They urged subscribers to give the new editorial management, whoever that might be, a chance.

Following the resignation, the Chicago Tribune announced it would stop using the report "until we have some idea of who is running UPI," according to James D. Squires, Tribune editor and executive vice president. The paper would review UPI service, he said, adding, "We don't even know anyone at UPI anymore."

Claude Hippeau, recently rehired as UPI executive vice president, said the company regretted the resignations and would name a new news management team "shortly."

Privately owned UPI has for years lost money because of inadequate financial support for a second general-interest news agency to the larger, member-owned Associated Press.

The resignations can do little but hurt UPI -- already suffering revenue losses from the cancellation of service by many newspapers -- as it struggles to regain client confidence.

In a letter, obtained by E&P, four UPI middle managers on Oct. 29 warned Vazquez that the loss of top editors would cause "a catastrophic loss of clients."

They also said delay and non-payment of bills were "paralyzing" UPI operations and hurting the company's image. Layoffs, they warned, "would deal a devastating blow."

Tom Winship, former Boston Globe editor and a member of UPI's advisory board, said, "The repeated management turnover at UPI has been greatly disturbing to all of us. It has not been a very conducive climate for good newspapering in the past year or so."

The resignations are the latest crisis in the turbulent history of the 80-year-old news service. They bring yet another overhaul in what has become a revolving door of news management in recent years.

Though Vazquez surfaced to inject millions of dollars to keep the service alive following UPI's bankruptcy, it is still losing at least $1 million a month.

Following an initial period when he spent some time at UPI's Washington, D.C., headquarters, Vazquez, a Mexican citizen, has recently run UPI through subordinates, by phone from Mexico City, where his El Sol newspapers are headquartered.

Under his stewardship, UPI has failed to stabilize management. Since Vazquez took over last year, the series of news bosses has include Malcolm R. "Mike" Hughes, Ron Cohen, Max McCrohon and Milton Benjamin. Chief excutives have include Luis Nogales, McCorhon, Benjamin and now Hippeau.

Sussman and Cason were hired in January by Milton Benjamin, who later resigned as UPI president. Benjamin, who also hired Willenson, from Newsweek, said either Cason, Sussman or Willenson would emerge to become "editor of UPI for the 1990s."