Projo parent AH Belo’s board awards big raises to top bosses

Top executives at The Providence Journal’s parent company, A.H. Belo, are getting big pay raises despite a 45% decline in the publisher’s stock price during 2011, the fourth straight year it lost money.

The compensation committee of A.H. Belo’s board of directors awarded the largest increase to CEO Robert Decherd. His annual base salary will jump 25% to $600,000 in April, the Dallas-based company said in an SEC filing. Decherd is chairman of the board.

In addition, A.H. Belo said Dallas Morning News publisher Jim Moroney’s base salary will increase 15.5% to $540,000; Chief Financial Officer Alison Engel’s will increase 8.3% to $325,000; and senior vice president Daniel Blizzard’s will increase 12% to $280,000. Their total compensation for 2011 will be reported later this spring.

John Hill, president of the Providence Newspaper Guild union, said the four executives “should be ashamed of themselves” for taking more money less than a year after laying off and buying out Journal staffers. The paper’s work force fell by a third between 2008 and 2011. The Guild signed a new contract in February 2011.

“They told us that the business needed that sacrifice in order to keep going, and it is galling and insulting to turn around and take that money that they saved by sending our people out the door and then put it in their swimming pools and their Lexuses,” Hill said. “They saved money because people here made sacrifices.”

In the filing, A.H. Belo said the increases in compensation for its four top executives “reflect their increased responsibilities” after the company did not replace several senior executives who left in 2011 and early 2012, including John McKeon, the Morning News’ president and general manager, who was the fifth member of the management committee.

Executive compensation at beleaguered newspaper companies has been attracting national attention in recent weeks amid the industry’s broader struggles, with employees criticizing a departing New York Times CEO’s $23 million exit package and a former Gannett CEO’s roughly $32 million severance deal.

A.H. Belo’s SEC filing said Decherd and the other three executives also will be eligible for additional cash bonuses and stock options based on the company’s performance in 2012. David Gross, A.H. Belo’s vice president of investor relations, didn’t respond to an email requesting additional comment.

A.H. Belo posted a net loss of $10.9 million in 2011, compared with a net loss of $124.2 million in 2010, as revenue fell 5% to $461.5 million. The company’s stock was up nearly 6% this year based on Monday’s closing price of $5.03 a share, after declining 45.4% in 2011.

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