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Dean Singleton disputes claim of power vacuum due to 7-month MediaNews Group CEO search

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Update: Yesterday, we shared info from a knowledgeable source about the search for a new CEO of MediaNews Group, the journalism giant that owns the Denver Post and over a hundred other newspapers across the U.S.. More than seven months after the announcement that Dean Singleton would be handing over the reins, no successor has been named. But Singleton, responding by e-mail, disputes the source's characterizations.

First off, Singleton writes that the CEO job "does not 'remain open.' I'm CEO until we name a new president and CEO, as our January press release clearly stated and you reported. That will happen in due course and I'll then remain as chairman as reported in January."

In addition, our source maintains that executives Gordon Paris and Michael Sileck have not been at MediaNews' Denver headquarters nearly as often as originally anticipated, creating a power vacuum that's led to turf wars and executive in-fighting. However, Singleton asserts that "Mike Sileck and Gordon Paris are fully engaged and integral members of our team," adding, "Gordon was not appointed interim CEO," as we reported. "He was appointed interim president to replace our departing president."

We regret the error. See our original item below.

Original item, 7:57 a.m. August 25: In January, Dean Singleton announced that he would be stepping down as CEO of MediaNews Group, which owns the Denver Post and dozens of other newspapers nationwide -- although the total is shrinking, kinda, with the consolidation of eleven papers in the Bay Area Newspaper Group under two mastheads, with 120 jobs lost in the process. But the CEO position remains open more than seven months later. Why? An inside source offers clues.

According to the source, MediaNews Group's board expected to hire a new CEO within three months of Singleton's announcement. In the meantime, Gordon Paris was appointed interim president [this reference has been corrected; see above for the explanation] and Michael Sileck was named interim Chief Revenue Officer. The plan, says the source, was for one or the other to be at the firm's Denver headquarters at all times "to provide leadership and continuity." However, the source contends that Sileck spends perhaps one week per month in the office, while Paris didn't make an appearance for more than a two-month stretch.

Decisions continue to be made. Earlier this month, Barbary Brunner was hired as a new marketing vice president, and the national sales team is being expanded under the auspices of veep Michael Petrak. This appears to be a reversal of strategy, given that the corporate marketing and sales department was laid off in March 2010.

But merger talks between MediaNews Group and Freedom Communications, which broke down in June, are still in the frozen zone, at least publicly. And the source says the leadership vacuum has led to turf wars and executive in-fighting, adding, "It's a very tense environment at all levels."

In many ways, little has changed at MediaNews Group. After all, Singleton ran the company for decades. But he told us in January that his long battle with multiple sclerosis, which has left him essentially wheelchair-bound, makes the sort of travel the job requires increasingly difficult -- and the ongoing economic downturn is only the latest challenge for the already struggling newspaper business.

If anyone can win this fight, it's Singleton, the ultimate journalism survivor. But he could obviously use some help.

More from our Media archive: "MediaNews Group experiments with digital pay walls -- but not yet in Colorado."

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