Tri-City Herald publisher to retire

Gregg McConnell
Gregg McConnell

Tri-City Herald publisher Gregg McConnell is retiring May 5 after leading the paper since late 2011.

Debra Leithauser, president and publisher of the Idaho Statesman, will have oversight of the Tri-City Herald in addition to her role at the Boise newspaper.

She will be looking for a person to lead the Herald locally, likely as a general manager rather than a publisher, she said during a visit to the Tri-Cities on Monday.

McConnell, 60, has worked at newspapers since he took a job at his hometown weekly in Polson, Mont., in 1975.

“I will miss being involved in community journalism,” he said. “I will miss the ability to make a difference. That is what we do in our business. It’s a calling more than a career.”

He plans to remain in the Tri-City community, but will take some time off and work on his golf game before deciding what to do next, he said.

Although McConnell will retire May 5, his last day at the newspaper will be Friday because of a long-planned vacation.

He said now seemed like a good time to retire as McClatchy, which owns the Tri-City Herald, moves to a new regional publishing structure.

Gary Wortel was named in March as publisher of the Sacramento Bee in California and as the regional publisher for McClatchy papers in the West, including the Tri-City Herald.

“This new structure sharpens our ability to move faster on both local and national levels and underscores our desire to work differently,” Wortel said.

I will miss being involved in community journalism. I will miss the ability to make a difference. That is what we do in our business. It’s a calling more than a career.

Tri-City Herald publisher Gregg McConnell

“The change will allow us to streamline operations and refocus resources to work in more effective and efficient ways as we accelerate the pace of our digital transition,” he said.

Leithauser has led the Idaho Statesman since late 2015.

Her background is as a journalist. She was the editor-in-chief of the McClatchy-Tribune Information Services and worked for the Washington Post for almost a decade.

She was the editor of the Washington Post’s online GoingOutGuide, the print entertainment section Weekend and The Washington Post Magazine.

She became interested in broader leadership roles as newspapers transition from traditional print publications to having a stronger presence online. Before moving to the Idaho Statesman, she was publisher of the Centre Daily Times in State College, Penn.

She has no immediate plans for changes at the Tri-City Herald, she said. She will take some time getting to know the leadership team at the Herald, she said.

Executive editor Laurie Williams and advertising director Sean Flaherty will report to Leithauser.

“Anyone who knows Gregg, knows that the wine industry has benefited from his involvement through his leadership in our WinePress Northwest magazine,” said Herald editor Laurie Williams.

“He has provided a laser-like focus to issues, including mental health, higher education and state public records, during his work on numerous community boards and commissions,” Williams said. “He did more for the community than many people might realize.”

McConnell is the secretary of the Tri-City Development Council and serves on its executive board. He is chairman of the Washington State University Tri-Cities Advisory Council, is on the board of Visit Tri-Cities and is on the Regional Affairs Committee of the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce.

McConnell said he was proud of the work the newsroom has done in recent years to hold government accountable and to tell the stories of nonprofit organizations.

“When we do stories about charities, their bank accounts go up,” he said.

Wortel praised McConnell as a community leader and strong advocate for public service journalism.

McConnell has held management and executive roles at newspapers in Montana, Washington and California. He replaced Rufus Friday, who became publisher of McClatchy’s Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader.

The leadership change at the Tri-City Herald was among several announced on Monday across the nation by McClatchy.

The publisher of The Bellingham Herald, Mark Owings, also announced his resignation on Monday. Responsibility for the McClatchy newspaper in Bellingham, Wash., will be assumed by David Zeeck, publisher of McClatchy’s The News Tribune in Tacoma and the Olympian in Olympia.

Publishers also announced they were stepping down or retiring at The Sun News in Myrtle Beach, S.C.; the Macon Telegraph in Macon, Ga., and the Bradenton Herald in Bradenton, Fla.

Annette Cary: 509-582-1533, @HanfordNews