SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) Jay T. Harris has stepped down as chairman and publisher of the San Jose Mercury News, a move he said was meant to protest the company's emphasis on the bottom line.
Harris said he hoped his Monday resignation would prompt the newspaper's parent company, Knight Ridder, to "closely examine the wisdom" of the paper's profit targets. He said the prospect of layoffs and financial cutbacks could do lasting harm to the newspaper.
Harris, 52, who had been publisher for seven years, announced his surprise resignation in a wistful e-mail to the paper's employees.
"In a letter to Knight Ridder CEO Tony Ridder and the Newspaper Division president, Steve Rossi, I explained I was stepping down 'in the hope that doing so will cause them to closely examine the wisdom' of the profit targets we've been struggling to find a way to meet," Harris wrote.
Top executives of the newspaper's corporate parent, San Jose-based Knight Ridder, offered a contrasting characterization in a letter to Mercury News employees. In Tuesday's Mercury News, they said the company still hopes to avoid layoffs and promised that "we will not let the vagaries of Silicon Valley damage the newspaper that we are so proud of."
Harris described himself in a profile published by the American Society of Newspaper Editors as a "journalistic traditionalist" and bemoaned when short-term demands cause papers to sacrifice core values.
"We all know we must make significant adjustments in the face of the currently severe economic downturn," he wrote Monday. "But so far, we have been unable to find a way to meet the new targets without risking significant and lasting harm to the Mercury News as a journalistic enterprise and as the special place to work that it is."
Calls to Harris' office were not returned.
Earlier this month, Harris had announced plans to lay off an unspecified number of employees, blaming a dramatic fall in help-wanted ad revenue and other signs of Silicon Valley's economic slowdown.
The paper, which has 1,700 employees, is the third-largest in Northern California with a daily circulation of 289,000.
About 250 employees staged a brief walkout Monday in solidarity with Harris.
"Hopefully, this will spark a nationwide debate over this issue of having to please Wall Street," said Luther Jackson, executive officer of the San Jose Newspaper Guild, a union representing 700 Mercury News employees.
A newspaper industry analyst said Harris' resignation was unexpected.
"He's always been one of the company's most highly regarded executives and has successfully run one of the company's biggest profit centers," said John Morton, a newspaper analyst from Silver Spring, Md. "I'm very surprised."