Published September 25. 2001 4:00AM Updated September 16. 2009 3:02PM
Gary Farrugia, a veteran journalist who most recently has developed successful spin-off ventures at Knight Ridder newspapers in Philadelphia, will become editor and publisher of The Day, succeeding Reid MacCluggage.
The 49-year-old will assume the top position Jan. 1, though he is expected to report to work in New London by Oct. 22. For more than two months, he will occupy a fourth-floor office adjacent to MacCluggage's and spend the time learning more about the newspaper, the community it covers, and its employees.
MacCluggage, who is retiring after leading The Day since 1984, announced the decision to employees Monday. Farrugia was scheduled to meet today with employees and tonight attend the annual gathering of Dayvets, a group of active and retired employees with at least 20 years of service.
The selection of Farrugia follows an exhaustive process that started to take shape three years ago when MacCluggage, who turns 63 next month, let the newspaper's board of directors know he would be seeking early retirement. There was a list of 150 potential candidates when the process began, with the number eventually being whittled down to 10 semifinalists. The Day's search committee agreed upon three finalists before selecting Farrugia on Aug. 31. He and the newspaper agreed to terms last Thursday.
Farrugia (pronounced fa-rew-ja) has a solid journalism background and knows how newspapers need to diversify in the rapidly changing world of mass communications, according to MacCluggage. The outgoing publisher believes the region and the newspaper staff will like what they see.
"Gary's got a lot of poise, he's confident and low-key," MacCluggage said. "He has a sense of humor and, as a manager, he cares a lot about his employees."
Farrugia said a factor in his decision to accept the job is the way the newspaper operates under the will of its longtime owner and publisher, Theodore Bodenwein. He termed as magical the will's instructions to produce a quality newspaper, treat its employees well, reinvest most profits into growing the newspaper, and donate any excess profits to help finance community and civic needs.
Alcino G. Almeida of Westerly, retired general manager of The Day, said the incoming publisher seems to have a sense of what the newspaper is all about.
"I think he will embrace the culture of The Day," Almeida said. "He's very familiar with the will and Bodenwein's mission. He provides a new set of eyes and I think he will look at the institution and see if any fine tuning needs to be done."
Farrugia said he is impressed with the product The Day produces on a daily basis, and he came to appreciate the extent of its coverage after reading the newspaper from cover to cover for a week this summer.
"I have not found another newspaper that covers towns in its marketplace with the depth that The Day does," he said. "... I was somewhat in awe that the paper had such a command of events in even the smallest towns of its coverage area."
He said no one should expect him to "land there with both guns blazing" because he has time to sit back and learn about the newspaper and its community, and the institution already is sitting on firm ground. He doesn't anticipate making multiple management changes.
"Not only do I not expect it, I would hope that it would not happen," Farrugia said. "Again, this is a very well-run newspaper. So I'm not coming in thinking that a bunch of my friends will follow me there."
Farrugia, who is married with two children, graduated from the University of Michigan in 1973 with dual majors of journalism and political science. He launched his career at small newspapers before moving on to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram from 1981 to 1983.
Then he went to the Philadelphia Inquirer, a Knight Ridder newspaper. He served as an assistant to respected editor Eugene Roberts. Among other things, he handled newsroom projects, initiatives and daily operations. In 1991, he was promoted to suburban editor and assistant managing editor, directing coverage in four Pennsylvania suburbs with a total newspaper circulation of 210,000.
Farrugia served in other management positions, including general manager of Knight Ridder Video, before being named last year to become Knight Ridder's vice president of new business development. In that position, he has discovered innovative ways to diversify and strengthen the newspaper chain's financial condition. Among other things, he has been in charge of PhillyTech Magazine, KR Video, database marketing and news research.
MacCluggage and other members of The Day's search committee said the combination of newsroom experience and business acumen made Farrugia stand out among a cast of quality applicants.
Newspapers throughout the country, including The Day, are diversifying in an effort to generate revenue and keep pace with technology. And Farrugia holds solid credentials in that area, according to search committee members.
"In the newspaper business, there's a need to think in new ways and creative ways," MacCluggage said. "This gives The Day an opportunity to grow in a manner that meets that need."
He said Farrugia, for all his business experience, remains a newsman at heart.
"His grounding, his soul, is in newsroom journalism," MacCluggage said.
The search committee made it clear that applicants had to have a newsroom background.
Almeida, the retired general manager, said Farrugia demanded attention from the beginning.
"He pretty much rose to the top," Almeida said. "And that made it easier. We had three finalists. In the end, the final decision wasn't all that hard."
The early work in the selection process was done by a consultant, the Chicago firm of Youngs, Walker & Co. Among the 150 journalists considered, MacCluggage reported, there were 32 minorities and 44 women. Eventually, the job was turned over to a search committee made up of The Day's board of directors and Almeida.
The list of candidates eventually was reduced to 10, members of the search committee reported, with several Day employees among those still in the running. They said the three finalists were from outside the newspaper.
MacCluggage and George C. White, a board member, dismissed speculation, however, that the committee was set from the start to choose someone from outside the company.
"We had several serious internal candidates," MacCluggage said.
White, while acknowledging that no Day employees made the final cut, said, "If Gary had turned it down, we might have looked inside again. The inside candidates were so good, that was a definite possibility. And I don't think we would have started the process all over again."
Farrugia said the interview process was incredibly thorough. It started in July with a three-hour discussion with Youngs, Walker & Co. in Washington. Then, in early August, the search committee interviewed him for at least six hours. He read a week's worth of papers and "The Day Paper," a history of the newspaper, written by Greg Stone, The Day's deputy editorial page editor. The final interview, according to Farrugia, lasted four to five hours on Aug. 31.
The selection committee questioned him about his management style, community involvement, financial management and journalism ethics, among other things.
"The only thing they didn't learn about me," he said, "was my blood type."
Among Farrugia's best friends is Fred Mann, a manager at Knight Ridder. Mann was a reporter at The Day in 1973-74, and he admits to still having a soft spot in his heart for New London and its newspaper.
"Gary is a straight shooter, he has a good head on his shoulders, and he'll get to know the community," Mann said. "Knowing Gary, and knowing New London, it seems like a perfect fit to me."
Farrugia and his wife, Betsy, have two children, Emilie, 6, and Gillian, 2. He said the family is putting its house up for sale in St. Davids, Pa., and he expects his wife and children will follow him here by next spring, at the latest.
He spends his free time fishing, playing tennis, traveling and making home improvements.