Hearst 1, Baylor 0

The Chron's owners hire (gasp!) an outsider to run things

Cohen dismisses the criticism, citing the paper's investigations into GE's pollution of the Hudson River, scandals in the Schenectady police department and "our real watchdog coverage of the New York state government."

One thing is clear: Cohen is a "Hearstie," as one reporter called him. "He's a very, very corporate creature," says another.

Cohen all but admits as much in talking of how the move to Houston came about. "One thing about Hearst -- it's a company that really cares about their people," he says. "They've talked to me my whole career about my hopes and dreams and aspirations," he says, so they knew of his desire to return to Houston.

He'll definitely make personnel changes here, the Albany people believe. "He's not the type of person who keeps everything status quo," says one. "You don't get named to that position to just steer the boat as it was. That era's over."

But how in-depth any change at the Chron might be is open to question. "If the culture is not to go after things like Enron, he'll go along with it," one says. "He'll make changes, in personnel definitely, but essentially it'll be cosmetic changes."

As to his own plans for the paper when he begins June 3, Cohen is (it's not surprising) being circumspect. You'd think he'd be a pretty close Web reader of his hometown paper, and you'd think part of the interview process with Hearst would be a detailed look at what's right and wrong with the Chron.

He says, though, that he will take a couple of months to learn what needs to be done.

"I'm going to spend at least two months getting to know the newspaper, the newsroom and the community. I'm going to take my time and ease into this…Hearst doesn't give you a mandate. They tell you, 'Here is the market -- you go in and get a feel for the newspaper and do your job.' They allow you to -- it's not like Gannett. They told me, 'Jeff, go innovate.' "

He calls the new job "thrilling…I've been sitting awake at night thinking of what it can be. I want to build a world-class newspaper in Houston."

He says he's made no decisions on personnel. Readers of the paper may notice a marked improvement in the next month, however. "What I promised to do was to read the paper really closely for the next 30 days, and I will have a much better take on the newspaper then," he says. Editions will be overnighted to him in Albany.

So reporters, editors and graphic artists will be pumping out résumé-priming work in May. Hey, it'll almost be like a sweeps month in TV.

If they can't get stories published in time, at least reporters can get story-idea memos on file. And if they've done their homework, expect at least some of those memos to call for an in-depth look at the problem of getting adequate legal representation for indigent defendants.

Cohen's wife, Kathryn Kase, is a former reporter who's president of the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. She's lobbied hard in Albany for better pay for lawyers representing indigents.

Maybe such memos will be the only things to be seen on the Chron's newly clean desks.

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