Printer Friendly

Who is Moe Hickey?

Who Is Moe Hickey?

When W.R. "Witt" Stephens sits down to another of his famous daily luncheons in the Stephens Building, he might join political pals such as Orval Faubus, religous leaders such as Catholic High School's Father George Tribou or multimillionaire businessmen such as Win Paul Rockefeller.

Occasionally, he'll include a new Arkansas resident who has the potential to be equally prominent.

A recent diner at Mr. Witt's table was Maurice L. "Moe" Hickey.

Hickey arrived from Reno, Nev., May 14 to become the Arkansas Gazette's third publisher since the Gannett Co. bought one of the state's leading institutions in late 1986.

Surely at that bread breaking, the cigar-chomping Witt Stephens asked his guest what many Arkansans are asking themselves.

Who is Moe Hickey?

And what will he do to the Gazette?

"I think they're going to have some real tough times with Moe," says Dick Kreck, a columnist at the Denver Post, where Hickey was publisher from November 1987 until November 1989.

"He can be very charming," Kreck says. "But he can also be a Jekyll-and-Hyde type, and that's a real tough circumstance to work under."

With Craig Moon's departure as Gazette publisher, it's clear that a different type of persona is occupying the main office at Third and Louisiana.

On the surface, Hickey appears affable and willing to meet community leaders. He has attended numerous luncheons and receptions since coming to Little Rock.

Moon was uncomfortable in a crowd. He rarely spoke to civic clubs and even appeared anxious when addressing his staff.

Gazette employees, who were used to Moon's detached managerial style, now answer to a publisher who doesn't hesitate to say what he thinks about anybody.

Hickey began working for Gannett in 1964 and didn't leave the country's largest newspapers chain until becoming publisher of the Denver Post in late 1987.

Following a brief retirement from the newspaper business, Hickey is back in a familiar role: He's playing Mr. Fix-It for Gannett.

Hickey gained a reputation for being able to enter a market, take over a troubled Gannett newspaper, correct the situation and move on.

After facing newspaper wars in Detroit and Denver, Hickey is ready to do battle in Little Rock.

His primary foe: The Arkansas Democrat and that newspaper's Arkansas born-and-bred publisher, Walter Hussman Jr.

Hussman knew of Moe Hickey long before Hickey arrived in town. Earlier this month, the two men dined together at downtown Little Rock's Cafe St. Moritz.

Hickey wanted to meet Hussman. Like Gen. George Patton, he believes in knowing the enemy.

But he's maintaining a tradition Moon began in his dealings with Arkansas Business. He doesn't respond to repeated interview requests.

Hickey's past employees and acquaintances, though, were willing to talk. And what they painted was the picture of a hard-drinking, womanizing, tantrum-throwing, shrewd newspaper executive.

Moe's Way

It was a sunny but miserably hot Saturday when the bouquet of flowers arrived at the Gazette newsroom. The buds might have wilted from the heat had they not already been dead.

When the staff at the Denver Post heard Moe Hickey had been assigned to Arkansas, Hickey's former employees were eager to donate money so they could send their condolences to the Gazette.

It was an opportunity for Post employees to vent emotions they could never publicly express when Hickey was in command.

"People were so afraid to make a mistake, they became immobilized," Kreck says.

Although the columnist never felt Hickey's wrath, he know many employees who did.

"He would just turn them upside down and send them on their way," says Tom Patterson, a former Post sports and metro editor who went on to become an investigative reporter for The National, the nationwide sports daily that printed its final edition Thursday after losing $100 million in 17 months. "If I hadn't left on my own, I would have been fired.

"He made management decisions while trying to save a struggling newspaper. In making those decisions, he pusched aside all personal feelings. He became ruthless and reckless."

Numerous Post employees describe Hickey's reign by saying, in effect, there was Moe's way and the wrong way.

"You can't fault him for not being decisive," says Joe Bullard, who was managing editor under Hickey and today is part owner of a graphics store. "Moe was into power plays, and he looked for people who would do what he told them to do. That's fine. But there was not much room for dissent."

Hickey's strengths and weaknesses spring from the same trait: dominance.

He can identify a problem and correct it. But his shoot-from-the-chip style can create controversy in newsrooms.

Moe Hickey Blues

Ask anyone who has dealt with Moe Hickey for a description of the man at work, and you get the same responses.

Hickey can be friendly and easy to talk to. When a person is on Hickey's good side, life is good.

But that's usually just a half-life.

When Hickey turns on a person, his demeanor changes. His voice lowers. The color of his face changes to a ruddy sheen.

His knuckles turn white as he tries to stabilize himself by holding onto his desk or whatever piece of furniture is convenient.

Then, he explodes, sometimes jumping up and down, even stomping on layout sheets if he doesn't like a headline or a photograph.

Once, when yelling at a circulation manager, Hickey lost control as he flailed his arms. He struck a cactus. The result was a bloody arm and yet another story for employees to whisper behind Moe Hickey's back.

"He's not tolerant of people who don't do their jobs," says Dean Singleton, the chairman of Media News Group who hired Hickey at the Post. "Because he's demanding, he tends to be a bit hard on people. He expects the ultimate. He is a gethings-done executive and does not accept anything less than the best from his people."

If his people don't deliver, Hickey will do it himself.

"He leaves no stone unturned," Singleton says. "If he sees a snake, he kills it. He doesn't form a committee to see why the snake is there."

Employees say Hickey gives a new meaning to the word "delegate."

To Hickey, delegate means, "Do exactly what I say. I'll look over your shoulder to see that you're doing it right. If you're not, you're career will be cut short."

Hickey fired at least seven department heads, an executive editor and a managing editor in the two years he was at the Post.

"That's the clearest example of the kind of manager he was," says Bullard, the former managing editor who was on Hickey's hit list. "It was clear that Moe was putting in his own people."

According to Singleton, a house-cleaning was needed at the Post. Hickey was merely taking the steps necessary to win the Denver newspaper war against Scripps Howard's tabloid, the Rocky Mountain News.

Squeezing A Dime

Little Rock observers felt Gannett had brought in its first string in both Moon and the company's first Gazette publisher, Arkansas native William T. Malone.

But newspapers executives across the country say those two are amateurs compared with Hickey.

After serving as publisher and general manager of Gannett newspapers in New York, Illinois and Michigan, Hickey was the first president of the Gannett Satellite Information Network, the unit that planned USA Today.

Hickey lost the job of president before the newspaper was launched. He was offered the title of publisher but declined.

Hickey, like Moon, is a numbers man. He understands retail advertising and can set budgets.

Perhaps most significantly, he understands how to fight a newspaper war.

"He knows how to squeeze a dime out of a newspaper," Bullard says.

Unlike Moon, who announced his decision to practically ignore circulation figures, Hickey is known for circulation feats.

The Post was an afternoon newspaper until it switched to a morning publication in 1982. Until Hickey came to town, the Post consistently was late arriving on subscribers' doorsteps.

"He said he could deliver by 6 a.m., and damn if he didn't do it," Patterson says.

But Patterson also says Hickey sacrificed editorial content by moving up deadlines.

The circulation improvements were Moe Hickey's proudest accomplishment, though. He developed a competent customer service department for subscribers and advertisers, ensuring complaints were handled.

Daily circulation was just less than 200,000 when Hickey went to the Post. It now is above 250,000.

Hickey also paid attention to printing quality. He demanded sharp, bright color and clear photos.

Even Hickey's critics admit that, unlike many publishers, he understands the editorial side of the newspaper industry.

"Moe is a very bright newspaperman," Singleton says. "From the advertising department to the press room, he knows the business."

Yet once Hickey achieves success, the critics say, he drives a thorn through his own side.

Hickey provides quick remedies for newspapers, not two-to-five-year strategies. But he sometimes can't quit fixing things.

His forte is not long-term leadership. In fact, Hickey was rumored to have been fired as publisher of the Post after boosting circulation figures.

That wasn't the case, according to Singleton.

"He and I had some basic differences in where we wanted to take the paper," Singleton says. "That's the best way to put it. It was not at all unfriendly."

Working In The Rock

Hickey has been plagued by bad press in recent years. Alternative publications in Denver routinely catalogued his drinking and womanizing. Books written by people with whom Hickey worked chronicled what the local publications missed.

Despite all that, Hickey's reputation isn't tarnished everywhere he goes.

At the Detroit News, where Hickey was publisher during the Gannett newspaper's war with Knight-Ridder's Detroit Free Press, Hickey was not as domineering and controversial as he was in Denver.

In Detroit, Hickey was more the corporate executive, a man who stayed away from the newsroom and wasn't known for hassling employees.

At the Gannett Satellite Information Network, Hickey even enjoyed a reputation as a man who knew how to delegate.

Something changed when he moved to Denver.

Moe Hickey became the ultimate micro manager, involved in the minutiae of layout and design.

Some Post employees contend that Hickey set about to make the newspaper the USA Today of Denver with one-tenth the manpower and money required to accomplish the task.

"He was into trivializing the news," says Mike Rudeen, a former entertainment editor at the Post who now works for a Denver public radio station. "The basic thrust of the paper under his leadership was trying to attract readers who honest to God didn't or couldn't read."

Rudden cites an example of Hickey's style: The publisher ordered an entertainment reporter to call Cher's agent to ask if the famous actress and singer were pregnant.

If the Post had been a national publication, that order might have been acceptable, Rudeen says. But for Hickey to expect a reporter from a Denver newspaper to call was another thing entirely.

At the Gazette, management already has taken heat for changes that resemble USA Today. If anything, Hickey's actions will be dissected in Little Rock ever more than they were in Denver.

So far, Gazette employees say, it's too early to tell what style of management their new boss will use.

"He's just gotten started," says business reporter Leroy Donald, a 30-year Gazette employee. "He's a pretty low-key fellow, easy to talk to from what we've seen."

After the jokes subside (a favorite was, "Gannett gives Little Rock a Hickey"), and after the dead flowers disappear, it will be Moe Hickey's turn to be in the limelight - on his own terms.

Singleton says, "If I had a newspaper with a lot of basic problems that needed to be fixed, I would hire Moe."

That's what Gannett has done.

Craig Moon recently was quoted as saying he would stay at the Gazette "until we win the newspaper war."

These days, Moon is president and chief operating officer of Gannett's Nashville Tennessean.

And the newspaper war is far from over.

It's Moe Hickey's turn to make his mark on Arkansas and the Gazette.

PHOTO : MORE WITH MOE: Maurice L. "Moe" Hickey is Gannett's latest attempt to find a return on its Arkansas investment.

PHOTO : THE LONE MALONE: William T. Malone was brought in from Springfield, Mo., as Gannett's first publisher at the Arkansas Gazette.

PHOTO : MOON CHILD: Craig Moon was described by Gannett officials as almost a child prodigy when he came to the Arkansas Gazette. He and Editor Keith Moyer, who is still at the newspaper, were supposed to form an unbeatable combination.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:includes related article; Maurice L. Hickey, president and publisher of the Arkansas Gazette newspaper
Author:Rengers, Carrie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Jun 17, 1991
Previous Article:Report from the sticks.
Next Article:Buying a Subaru?

Related Articles
The 12-year war.
The financial forecast.
Arkansas Gazette. "The silence is haunting." (reminiscenses of former journalists of the Arkansas Gazette newspaper)(part 1)
Where Gannett went wrong.
Sounding out. (Outtakes).
Strange bedfellows. (Outtakes).

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters