Critics Alarmed by Nieman Head's Record at Gannett Papers

New Nieman Foundation curator Robert H. Giles has traveled a bumpy road to Harvard, winning many supporters--as well as enemies--during his long career as a newspaper editor.

Complaints from former employees about his record as editor of The Detroit News during a major strike at the paper delayed his appointment by over three weeks this summer. Reporters, many of whom Giles had fired during the strike, said he presided over a newsroom that produced highly biased coverage of the labor dispute that they believed should have disqualified him from the job.

But to some of his critics, his years as an editor at two Gannett-owned newspapers in Rochester, N.Y., provide an equally troubling picture of his managerial style and his approach to journalism. In the eyes of many of his former colleagues from Rochester, Giles was a creature of Gannett, the giant newspaper conglomerate where he has worked for decades and is widely credited--or blamed--for transforming journalism into a more corporate enterprise.


Many of the journalists who wrote for Giles in Rochester, where he was simultaneously editor of the rival Democrat and Chronicle and Times-Union from 1977 to 1986, laud him as a fine editor who held high journalistic standards.

But to others, his management style typifies what they say is Gannett's approach to journalism. They say he was a ruthless manager who, even in the years before the divisive Detroit newspaper strike, left the careers of several of his subordinates in shambles--allegations Giles adamantly denies.

While editor of the Rochester papers, Giles's critics say, he pushed for gentle, non-aggressive news coverage--which they say is typical of the Gannett approach to the newspaper business. And some of these critics say that by naming Giles to the Nieman curatorship, Harvard is endorsing a second-rate brand of journalism.

"He's just not of the same caliber as [Bill] Kovach," the former curator, said Mike Meyers, a 1987 Nieman fellow who worked with Giles in Rochester. "He seems to represent the money and power of Gannett."

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