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Bronson’s suit ends in undisclosed settlement

By Rob Holbert

Issue# 229
APRIL 19, 2011

 

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Though it ended in a settlement, former Mobile Press-Register Publisher Howard Bronson’s lawsuit against his old employers was a week of verbal wrestling that revealed sides of both litigants they probably would have rahter left undisclosed.

The terms of Bronson’s settlement with Advance Publications, Inc. ended up undisclosed, taking just minutes before the jury was set to begin debating whether he would get the $7.5 million he was asking for what he termed an unjustified firing. The money he asked was roughly 10 years of the $750,000 annual salary Bronson was earning at the helm of the Press-Register. He claimed the money was due him because his bosses at Newhouse publishing, owners of Advance, had violated their own solemn pledge to never fire an employer because of financial reasons or because technology had made their job obsolete.

Bronson, 74,  headed the Press-Register for 17 years, coming from a publishing job at the Shreveport (La.) Times. He told the jury during his April 4 testimony he’d come to Mobile primarily because of the famed "Newhouse Pledge” and the fact he wouldn’t be forced to retire at 65 as he would have at the Gannet-owned Times.

"Howard Bronson relied on it. Everyone relied on it,” Bronson’s attorney Vince Kilborn told the jury.

Newhouse rescinded its pledge to employees in February of 2010 after offering buyouts to many of their employees. Bronson claims he had been forcibly retired after successfully turning around a paper routinely thought of as a journalistic joke, as well as overseeing its move into a sparkling $20 million building. He claims his retirement came as a surprise when Mark Newhouse came to see him in August 2010 and said his time at the Press-Register was over. Bronson said he wanted to continue as publisher as long as he physically could, but wasn’t allowed, regardless of the pledge.

"Now who is he? He’s a nothing,” Kilborn told the jury, pointing at Bronson.

When Bronson took the stand he said though the move to Mobile doubled his salary to $300,000, provided him with memberships to the Country Club of Mobile and included a new Cadillac every four years, those issues weren’t even discussed during his initial meeting with Donald Newhouse. The job security pledge was his only real concern.

In opening statements, the defendant’s attorney Cecily Kaffer attempted to paint Bronson as being left behind by the Internet, a situation that left the paper losing money.

The second day was dominated by Bronson’s roughly seven-hour stint on the stand. During that time Kaffer repeatedly focused upon Bronson’s outspoken differences with the Newhouses about how they intended to go forward on the Web. Bronson made clear he thought it best to charge for content generated by the Press-Register and other Newhouse-owned publications, but his employers enacted a strategy of making the content free in order to garner the largest audience possible and having that as the lure to advertisers.

"My position was we should not be giving away local content to competitors,” he testified. "That was not the position of the Newhouses... As an employee I thought it was best to advocate for what I thought was right.”

Bronson also claimed he advocated grandfathering in those employees already working under the pledge as it was taken away and not offering it to new employees, allowing natural attrition to cull the number of employees under the pledge. He says he was told the company’s newspapers would not survive if the pledge was not discontinued.

Later he testified he’d asked for 27 months of salary, but that was rejected, and he filed suit. When Kaffer asked why he’d been willing to take money instead of immediately filing his suit, Bronson said he’d been trying stay true to the company that employed him for 17 years.

"At that time I was trying to be the good employee. Sometime around that time I said this is a gross injustice not just to me, but to everyone. I stopped being the lapdog employee,” he testified.

The defense also pointed out the newspaper’s financial problems, noting Bronson’s attempts to balance the $60-million budget had been severely off base the last few years he was in control.

Later days of testimony saw Bronson’s wife, Dorsey, break down on the stand while recalling the shock of her husband’s firing and the humiliation of having to go clean out his desk while employees stood by watching.

"We were so humiliated because a number of reporters came by, and they didn’t know what to say. We felt like we were doing something so awful,” she sobbed. Later she said, "We were humiliated when we read in the paper he’d retired. Your name is ruined, your reputation is ruined. It’s like you’ve done something wrong.”

The trial also saw one of the country’s richest men, octogenarian Donald Newhouse put on the stand to explain whether Bronson was indeed ever covered by the pledge. When asked by Kilborn if Howard Bronson was a liar, Newhosue said flatly, "Yes.”
Newhouse testified the pledge, which he wrote more than 30 years ago, was never meant as a contract, but as a policy.

"It was intended to be a promise that Advance would keep as long as it could keep it,”
Newhouse testified.

In defense testimony the Newhouses repeatedly said Bronson had not been terminated, but retired and that he had been a fine publisher. In the end as the jury prepared to deliberate one side or the other initiated a settlement and both sides claimed to have left satisfied with the result. It is not certain whether any other former Newhouse employees will attempt to follow Bronson’s path in suing their former employers.




 
neucompany says:

MAY 12, 2011
9:46 AM
  Amen, Platemaker. You are so right.

I do think many current and former Press-Register employees may have a case against Newhouse.

Look, Bronson got his. Does he care about the other employees? You can figure out the answer to that one.

As long as he has his Country Club membership and can ride his gravy train until his death, he does not care one single bit about the others he left behind.

Leadership at the Press-Register? I don't think so.
 
 
platemaker says:

MAY 11, 2011
10:34 AM
  Just hope this opens workers eyes @ the Press Register
and other big buinesses around Alabama.
Workers took cuts while Bronson drove his caddy.
However, I'm glad to see him win, Newhouse new he gave the workers a life time job, a contract to get the union out.
Then in come his bosses that hired there friends,and there friends wifes, and kids, moffia style, while the honest worker could not go anywhere in the company. Many took these buy-out's, from fear tactics, or loseing there jobs.
Here's hopeing that Bronsons lawyer's call each and every person that has been fired, layed off and took buyout's
since Bronson entered the new building, just to see how many more suits can be filed against the paper.
 
 
neucompany says:

APRIL 24, 2011
12:37 AM
  I strongly agree with stiffarm and jagsouthern. I wish the investigative reporters at Lagniappe would write a story detailing the day-to-day duties and job responsibilities Howard Bronson had while "working" at the Press-Register.

What exactly did he Do all day at the Press-Register to command a $745,000 annual salary plus perks? In a city the size of Mobile, Ala., are you kidding me? Bronson wanted an airplane? A new Cadillac, a membership at the Mobile Country Club?

Turn in, Turn out.

Is Mr. Bronson going to help the other employees at the newspaper who also worked there because of the no lay-off policy?

I doubt it.

What is an average annual salary for other newspaper editors in the Southeast? What is an average annual salary for newspapers in the U.S. with approximately the same circulation as the Press-Register?

Is Mike Marshall a college graduate?

Has Mrs. Bronson recovered yet from that devastating task of cleaning out her husband's desk while reporters watched? Could she name these reporters? Bronson's office is not visible from the newsroom. Lagniappe reporters should check this out by visiting the Press-Register.


I am so surprised that so few people have a comment about the Howard Bronson case.

Thank you, Lagniappe. Thank you for giving us the story.

Will Bronson's esteemed attorney take the case of an average wage earner at the Press-Register against Newhouse?
Oh, I forgot. A reporter, editor, photographer, clerk, classified ad rep, etc., cannot afford to hire Bronson's pricey attorney.

I think more than one man had his eyes "gouged out" lately in Mobile, Ala.
 
 
neucompany says:

APRIL 24, 2011
12:36 AM
  I strongly agree with stiffarm and jagsouthern. I wish the investigative reporters at Lagniappe would write a story detailing the day-to-day duties and job responsibilities Howard Bronson had while "working" at the Press-Register.

What exactly did he Do all day at the Press-Register to command a $745,000 annual salary plus perks? In a city the size of Mobile, Ala., are you kidding me? Bronson wanted an airplane? A new Cadillac, a membership at the Mobile Country Club?

Turn in, Turn out.

Is Mr. Bronson going to help the other employees at the newspaper who also worked there because of the no lay-off policy?

I doubt it.

What is an average annual salary for other newspaper editors in the Southeast? What is an average annual salary for newspapers in the U.S. with approximately the same circulation as the Press-Register?

Is Mike Marshall a college graduate?

Has Mrs. Bronson recovered yet from that devastating task of cleaning out her husband's desk while reporters watched? Could she name these reporters? Bronson's office is not visible from the newsroom. Lagniappe reporters should check this out by visiting the Press-Register.


I am so surprised that so few people have a comment about the Howard Bronson case.

Thank you, Lagniappe. Thank you for giving us the story.

Will Bronson's esteemed attorney take the case of an average wage earner at the Press-Register against Newhouse?
Oh, I forgot. A reporter, editor, photographer, clerk, classified ad rep, etc., cannot afford to hire Bronson's pricey attorney.

I think more than one man had his eyes "gouged out" lately in Mobile, Ala.
 
 
stiffarm says:

APRIL 20, 2011
4:53 PM
  He was an overpaid shill for a certain prominent pro Bama football Jewish family...no wonder he reviewed the proposed editorials.
 
 
jagsouthern says:

APRIL 19, 2011
4:44 PM
  I meant to say "he took whatever they offered." I wish I had the gravy train he was riding.
 
 
jagsouthern says:

APRIL 19, 2011
4:41 PM
  Howard was going to lose this case. I took whatever they offered. Bronson's reputation around town was that he could dish out the humiliation....too bad he couldn't take some of his own medicine.
 

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What should be Mayor-elect Stimpson's top priority?

Examining the budget.
Evaluating city employees.
Addressing public safety issues.
Improving infrastructure.
Free fish plates.

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