A day after introducing a new publisher to oversee its western Montana newspapers, including the Missoulian, Lee Enterprises changed course.
"Due to recent developments, Paul McArthur will not be joining Lee Enterprises,'' said Nathan Bekke, vice president of consumer sales and marketing and group publisher for the Iowa-based media company.
Bekke declined further comment. The company does not publicly discuss personnel matters.
Within hours of news reports about McArthur's appointment Tuesday, his past tweets and Twitter "likes'' on topics ranging from the news media to Islam to the weight of flight attendants were being widely shared — and criticized — on social media.
McArthur "liked'' tweets posted by conservative commentators criticizing mainstream news coverage as unfair or inaccurate, including a quote from Dinesh D'Souza that "the press isn’t so much the enemy of the people, more that it’s the enemy of the truth.”
He also used his personal Twitter account to say: "They changed name from stewardess to flight attendant and all 'stewardesses' became mean, fat, old, ugly and/or gay - weird, huh?''
On the same account, he posted: "Am I the only one uncomfortable with a GIANT digital 'Join Islam' billboard in front of Newark airport? BTW, white sign, blood red letters.''
McArthur, who worked as a senior vice president of sales for Gatehouse Media's Central Division, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
He was scheduled to begin work as publisher of the Missoulian and Ravalli Republic, as well as regional publisher overseeing Lee newspapers in Butte and Helena, next week. Tyler Miller is publisher of the Helena Independent Record and the Montana Standard in Butte.
Lee Regional Vice President Mike Gulledge, publisher of the Missoulian, Ravalli Republic and Billings Gazette, stepped down Monday, announcing he was leaving the company after undergoing heart surgery. Dave Worstell, the general manager of the Gazette, was named publisher there this week.
The role of a newspaper publisher has changed over time, said Dennis Swibold, who teaches journalism ethics at the University of Montana.
“At the turn of the last century, before the professionalization of journalism, publishers played politics and had business interests that would intersect with things'' the newspaper covered, he said. “The ethics came out of a backlash to that. Now, journalists use the ‘separation of church and state’ analogy. You don’t want people, readers, thinking that the news can be bought or that columns can be purchased or something.”
Jeanne Abbott, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, said most publishers have “a business function more than an editorial function.”
“Usually, they’re trying to keep the newspaper solvent or the news organization solvent,” she said. “They’re focused on sound business practices that serve advertisers and readers. I’ve worked for newspapers and under three or four publishers, and their role was generally not much of an editorial capacity, in terms of content.''
Abbott said the publisher usually serves on boards of different community organizations and in many cases is the public face of the business.
“They are important to the newsroom in making sure the organization is on sound financial ground so that the editorial product can be published,” she said. “They are the brand of the newspaper, they’re in the public eye. The publisher has more of a role in connecting to the community in a business and outreach kind of way. But the important thing is that the public understands they need to be separated from influencing content.”
Traditionally, the editor of a newspaper runs the newsroom, overseeing the operation of the news, sports and features departments. The publisher is a member of the paper's editorial board, which shapes the opinions expressed on the newspaper's editorial page.
“Because the publisher often has a more public role in the community, representing the newspaper at the Rotary Club and at the Chamber of Commerce, maybe there isn’t quite as clear of a distinction,” Abbott said. “Because [community leaders] see the publisher more often than the editor, they might be confused. They might suppose that the publisher then represents the newspaper entirely, including content.
"The publisher has a role to play in producing content," but every newspaper would try to keep the distinction, she said.
Lee Enterprises owns five newspapers in Montana. It is a publicly traded media company based in Davenport, Iowa, with publications in 49 markets in 21 states.