NBC named Iowa newspaper editor Michael G. Gartner as president of its struggling news division on Wednesday, hours after Lawrence K. Grossman said he was leaving because "it hasn't been all that fun lately."
"Different times call for different types of people," NBC President Robert C. Wright said as he announced the appointment.Gartner has most recently been a part-time general news executive with Gannett Co. Inc. and editor of the Ames, Iowa, Daily Tribune. A former president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, he is also former editor of The Courier-Journal of Louisville, Ky., the Des Moines (Iowa) Register and the front page of The Wall Street Journal.
Grossman, who left public broadcasting four years ago to join the network, said he is quitting because of differences with the executives installed by General Electric, which bought the network in 1986.
"It's time for them to get their own guy in there," Grossman said in Los Angeles, where he was attending an NBC meeting. "Things have changed. It hasn't been all that fun lately. I've been there four years. It's a difference in style, personality and priorities."
John Chancellor, the veteran NBC correspondent and commentator, said he has known Gartner for many years and praised the appointment as "audacious and intelligent."
"We get various reactions to it around the water cooler here," Chancellor said in an interview. "One is that Bob Wright has set good journalism as his first priority - that's obviously clear. Another reaction I would have is that Gartner will be able to prove that good journalism is the heart of the enterprise."
Gartner, 49, veered off the fast track in 1987 to become editor at the 10,000-circulation Ames Tribune, which he owned with two partners. He continued to hold the title of General News Executive of the Gannett Co. and USA Today.
Those who have worked with Gartner, who is also a lawyer, describe him as a creative, hard-driving editor with an ability to inspire a staff.
"He has an electric personality," said James P. Gannon, editor of the Des Moines Register. "He's a brilliant journalist, a great idea person and a very outgoing personality who had good effects on morale in the newsroom."
Dennis Waller, general manager of the Ames Tribune, said Gartner has "an energy field that gets everybody fired up. He is just an exceptional individual. He's the best questioner I've ever heard in my life."
Waller said Gartner would retain the title of editor of the Tribune and plans to commute to Des Moines on weekends.
Grossman, whose resignation was effective immediately, wouldn't say what his plans were other than to leave for a vacation Friday.
The change at NBC News marked the second time in a month that corporate bosses have reached outside the network to hire a news president. CBS recently named ABC News executive David Burke to replace Howard Stringer as president of CBS News.