City of Changes
Philly's Hall exits; San Jose's publisher replaces him
By Jill Rosen
Jill Rosen is AJR's assistant managing editor
After telling staffers that he'd be around until 2006, when the next labor contract was due, Robert J. Hall called a reverse: The 58-year-old publisher and chairman of Philadelphia Newspapers Inc., which publishes the Inquirer and Daily News, will retire at the end of the year. Joe Natoli will step in as Hall's successor, leaving his job as president and publisher of the San Jose Mercury News. Both papers are owned by Knight Ridder.
Hall says nothing in particular sparked his change of mind. "My wife, Ronna, and I kept talking, talking, talking," he says, and decided "this is a good time."
The move comes after a number of top changes at PNI, specifically at the Inquirer. First, the paper lost Editor Robert J. Rosenthal in November 2001. Walker Lundy took over but retired a year-and-a-half later. In came Amanda Bennett (see Bylines, August/September) as the Inky's editor in June; now, out goes Hall.
Bennett, one of those surprised by Hall's retirement, says he was a wonderful publisher and boss. "You could always express your mind with him, debate things, work things out and realize that he was always looking out for the good of the paper."
At the Daily News, Editor Zack Stalberg says: "I'll miss working for him, and I'll especially miss all that freedom that he permitted me. But at the same time I think it's a great move for him. He's put up with a lot of stuff and difficult times, and he's negotiated both papers through tough water."
Hall, an accountant who joined PNI in 1973, has worked for Knight Ridder for 30 years. After a five-year stint at the Detroit Free Press, where he ultimately served as publisher and chairman, Hall assumed his current job in 1990.
Natoli, 48, has a similar Knight Ridder-filled bio. Also an accountant, he joined the company in 1976 and climbed the ranks to general manager of the Miami Herald in 1993 and then president of the Miami Herald Publishing Co. the next year. In 2001, Natoli switched coasts, taking the publisher post at the Mercury News at a time of controversy: Jay T. Harris had vacated the position to protest budget cuts at the paper.
Certainly the past few years have been tough for both publishers, as the industry faced a down economy. At PNI, there's pressure from Knight Ridder to bolster its underperforming profit margin. The companywide margin is 21; PNI's is about four percentage points lower.
Hall says financial issues didn't play a part in his decision to step down. The economy's been bad, he says, for about three years. "It's almost a way of life."
In a press release, Steve Rossi, president of Knight Ridder's newspaper division, praised Natoli's ability to find "revenue where others have failed to see it," and he called Natoli's work in San Jose during the Silicon Valley's worst recession "nothing short of remarkable."
In retirement, Hall plans to teach at Drexel University, remain active in the Philadelphia area's arts organizations and play "a lot of golf." "It's a great time," he says. "I'm really excited about it."###