MIAMI – The Miami Herald's publisher resigned Tuesday, saying "ambiguously communicated" personnel policies resulted in the firings of three journalists at its Spanish-language paper who were paid to appear on U.S.-government broadcasts aimed at promoting democracy in Cuba.
Jesus Diaz Jr., the papers' publisher since July 2005, had dismissed two El Nuevo Herald reporters and a freelance contributor who had been paid by Radio Marti and TV Marti. Diaz said the company offered to rehire the three and that the company would not discipline six others it recently discovered also took payments.
Diaz also resigned as president of the Miami Herald Media Co.
"I realize and regret that the events of the past three weeks have created an environment that no longer allows me to lead our newspapers in a manner most beneficial for our newspapers, our readers and our community," Diaz wrote in a letter to readers announcing his resignation.
David Landsberg, a longtime Herald employee who served as general manager, took over immediately as company president and publisher of the two newspapers, said The McClatchy Co., the papers' parent company based in Sacramento, Calif. McClatchy acquired the newspapers in June when it bought Knight Ridder Inc.
Gary Pruitt, McClatchy president and CEO, said in a statement that the company was sorry to see Diaz leave but "we couldn't be happier about having such a talented and experienced leader perfectly poised to step into this important job."
McClatchy spokeswoman Elaine Lintecum declined to comment beyond what was in the company's news release.
Diaz said he believed the journalists' acceptance of payments "was a breach of widely accepted principles of journalistic ethics." But he added "our policies prohibiting such behavior may have been ambiguously communicated, inconsistently applied and widely misunderstood over many years in the El Nuevo Herald newsroom."
He said no one would be allowed in the future to accept money from the U.S. government-run broadcasters, and conflict-of-interest policies would be strengthened.
The Miami Herald reported early last month, citing government documents, that 10 South Florida journalists had received thousands of dollars from the federal government for their work on radio and TV programming aimed at undermining Fidel Castro's communist regime.
Pablo Alfonso, who reports on Cuba and wrote an opinion column for El Nuevo Herald, was paid almost $175,000 since 2001 to host shows on Radio and TV Marti, U.S. government programs that promote democracy in Cuba, according to government documents obtained by the Herald.
Olga Connor, a freelance reporter who wrote about Cuban culture for El Nuevo Herald, received about $71,000 from the U.S. Office of Cuba Broadcasting, and staff reporter Wilfredo Cancio Isla, who covered the Cuban exile community and politics, was paid almost $15,000 in the last five years, the Herald reported.
Cancio called the firings an attack on his journalistic integrity but said he would probably return to the newspaper.
"There are other elements that can be discussed now, such as policies on conflict of interest, ethics and standards of El Nuevo's Herald's coverage of Cuba," Cancio said. "This opens a chapter for an honest discussion over the values of Hispanic journalism."
Connor did not return an e-mail seeking comment. A message left at the home of a Pablo Alfonso in Miami was not returned.
The dismissals caused a furor among members of Miami's Cuban-American community, which responded with canceled subscriptions and attacks on Diaz and some of the newspaper's editors and journalists in letters and e-mails. Critics also said Diaz reacted too quickly and harshly
The Herald's internal probe revealed that the activities at Radio and TV Marti of four of the six newly identified El Nuevo Herald employees had been approved by El Nuevo Herald executive editor Carlos Castaneda, who died in 2002.
Diaz spent the past 14 months as head of the Herald's operations and oversaw the ownership transition from Knight Ridder to McClatchy and through several hurricanes that strained production schedules.
One of his first challenges on the job was the firing of Jim DeFede. The popular columnist admitted he recorded a phone conversation without the permission of former city commissioner Arthur Teele, just before Teele shot himself in the lobby of The Miami Herald building in July 2005.
Diaz joined the Herald in 1993 as vice president and chief financial officer before departing three years later. He returned as general manager in 2002 and succeeded Alberto Ibarguen in 2005.