Hitchcock’s the One to Blame

My blood is boiling as I read your story about Yesse! Communications. I’m Aaron Wolfe, former owner of Icon, another paper that suffered and died while under Hitchcock’s incompetent leadership. I’ll admit right away that the worst and most naive mistake I ever made in my newspaper career was to sell my paper to him — hell, I thought I was selling it to Bill Craig, Hitchcock’s partner in the early days. I’ll also admit that a better person and a better businessperson than I was would have done much better for Icon and its employees than I did.

Hitchcock is an incompetent businessman and a liar. He did teach me one crucial business lesson, though: Never trust anybody, and its corollary: Even though you get it in writing, you need to confirm it independently.

Let me comment on a few points in the story. First, Kerry Farley is just another in a line of saviors that Hitchcock brought in to turn the newspapers around. We had promises of huge national ad sales, regional sales networks, hands-on management help, all designed to get to profitability faster than a reasonable person would expect, so that Hitchcock could continue his jet-setting tours of small papers that might be for sale. Hitchcock made unreasonable promises to Rollie Dick, his money man. Farley was just another successful sales guy who had a plan.

At Icon (this was after I left in November, 1999) Farley stormed in and laid down the law, leaving trusted salespeople in his wake, based on his experience at NUVO. In short order, the paper was out of business even though sales had been increasing up to the point when I quit. How in the world would an intelligent adult think that the sales techniques of “big city” NUVO would work in college town Iowa at a staff of three salespeople?

Meanwhile, Yesse! still did not have uniform accounting or even accounting procedures.

I can’t believe that with Yesse! down to two papers, Hitchcock and Farley are still pretending they don’t know that their health insurance had expired or that one of their two papers is bouncing checks.

“[Hitchcock] was as surprised as anyone else when he found out this spring that the policy had been canceled.” Come on, please. Yesse! files monthly reports with the bankruptcy court. I don’t believe his surprise.

For the record, my claim against Yesse! is about $90,000. But at this point, I’d just like to get my name off the old Icon debts, as Yesse! is legally obligated in writing to do. (See lesson above, along with the word “liar.”) I’m not rich, not even close. I don’t have a suburban castle, a “cottage” right on Lake Michigan or the yacht that goes with it, as does Hitchcock.

Here’s some more info about the timing of Yesse!’s bankruptcy. I don’t know about the timing of Rollie Dick pulling his support for Yesse!, but Hitchcock filed for bankruptcy the very day before my lawyers had plans to file a piece-of-cake lawsuit against Yesse!, thus saving himself about $50k in the immediate term. He knew all about it, because at that point I still had a little foolish hope that he would do the right thing by me. (See “naive” from above.)

I don’t know, if you can’t really blame Hitchcock, who can you blame? Osama Bin Laden? Hitchcock’s the common element in every one of the Yesse! papers. I’m glad that AAN is writing about this, because the story of Yesse! and its trail of shuttered newspapers is a story of which every independent newspaper owner should be aware.