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Publisher called layoffs ‘painful’ while pocketing bonus

Virginian-Pilot newspaper Publisher Maurice Jones in September delivered the sort of somber news heard lately in newsrooms across the country: more layoffs, a move he called "difficult and painful."

Weeks later, Mr. Jones — by then President Obama's nominee for deputy secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) — filed a government ethics form showing he had received more than a quarter-million dollars in bonus compensation from January 2010 until October 2011.

That's on top of more than $600,000 in salary from the newspaper company and its corporate parent over the same period, the filings show. In addition, Mr. Jones disclosed holding assets worth $500,000 to $1 million in Landmark Media, the newspaper's parent company.

Click here to view the disclosure report (PDF)

He became publisher in 2008, having joined the company in 2005 after working in Virginia state government.

Senators, Democratic and Republican, asked no questions about Mr. Jones' bonus compensation at a confirmation hearing in November, held days before the newspaper reported on more than 50 job cuts and its fourth round of layoffs since late 2008.

"I think what's heartbreaking about this is the lack of outrage," said Edward Wasserman, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation professor of journalism ethics at Washington and Lee University in Virginia. "Businesses didn't used to imagine their social mission being one of enriching insiders."

Mr. Jones, who was commissioner of Virginia's Department of Social Services under former Gov. Mark R. Warner, a Democrat and now U.S. senator, did not respond to email and phone messages about the bonus money, forwarding questions to HUD officials.

HUD spokesman Jerry Brown said Wednesday it's the department's policy not to have pending nominees speak to the media before confirmation. Mr. Brown also declined to comment on Mr. Jones' compensation.

"Between now and the end of the year, we will eliminate additional jobs from Pilot Media, the most difficult and painful part of this journey," Mr. Jones wrote in a letter to Virginian-Pilot readers in September.

Weeks later, on Oct. 4, 2011, Mr. Jones filed forms with the U.S. Office of Government Ethics disclosing his bonus cash. The forms do not indicate when he received the money, and HUD declined to elaborate. The ethics filing covered income he received from Jan. 1, 2010, until Oct. 4, 2011.

During that period, the forms show, Mr. Jones was paid $150,000 in salary from Landmark Media Enterprises LLC, parent company of Pilot Media newspaper company. Separately, he received $462,500 in salary and $263,070 in bonus compensation from Pilot Media, according to the filings.

Charles Apple, former graphics editor of the Virginian-Pilot, who left the paper in 2008 after being asked to take a pay cut, said many of his former colleagues who have been laid off in recent years "have every right to be upset about the bonuses."

But, he added, the newspaper wasn't alone, saying executives at other media companies have received bonuses, too, even as newsroom employees have faced furloughs and layoffs.

"It seems like they've all got deals like that where they lay people off and spend an ungodly amount on bonuses."

The newspaper company is private, and Mr. Jones' compensation became public only because of his pending nomination. At his confirmation hearing, Mr. Jones spoke proudly of his work at the company.

"I wanted to run a newspaper because I wanted the challenge of leading a private-sector enterprise that pursued both excellent business results and distinguished public service," he told the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. "Little did I know that I was entering an industry that was and is in the midst of the most far-reaching transformation of its history.

"Very quickly I had to develop a point of view about the newspaper's biggest challenges and attempt to set us on a path to achieve our double bottom-line mission. It has been an incredible journey, and I continue to learn lessons from the challenge," Mr. Jones testified.

Like many newspapers across the country, including The Washington Times, the Virginian-Pilot has seen its share of layoffs in recent years.

"We're not in any crisis mode," Mr. Jones was quoted as saying in a Nov. 22 article for the newspaper. "But we are looking forward at what we think is going to be an economic climate that's not going to give us a lot of help."

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