Cheryl Dell retires as Sacramento Bee publisher; parent company restructures

Cheryl Dell announced her retirement Friday as The Sacramento Bee’s publisher and president.
Cheryl Dell announced her retirement Friday as The Sacramento Bee’s publisher and president. Sacramento Bee file

Cheryl Dell announced her retirement Friday as publisher and president of The Sacramento Bee, ending a nine-year tenure marked by the paper’s sometimes bumpy transition to a digital-first news organization.

Dell, 57, announced her retirement in a letter to employees, saying she was ready to move on after 30 years as a newspaper industry executive.

“That’s 30 years of 24/7,” she said in an interview. “It was just time to step away.”

She will be replaced by Gary Wortel, publisher of the Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram. The Fort Worth paper, like The Bee, is owned by Sacramento-based McClatchy. Wortel is taking on the additional role of regional publisher, overseeing a total of 10 McClatchy papers in the West, as part of a restructuring announced by the company Friday.

Dell, whose last day will be April 7, said McClatchy executives were planning the restructuring as she was contemplating retirement, and it made sense for her to announce her decision at the same time.

She said she believes she’s leaving on a high note, even though The Bee has struggled with the transformation that’s affecting the newspaper industry and other traditional media in an era dominated by the internet.

McClatchy has seen its profits and revenue decline. While the company doesn’t break out results for individual papers, Dell said The Bee has made strides with advertisers and subscribers. Circulation revenue, for example, has doubled in her nine years despite a steady drop in print subscribers.

“We are on the right path and seeing good progress,” she said. She added that she’s proud of The Bee’s commitment to quality journalism, as evidenced by its Pulitzer Prize last spring for editorial cartoons.

A Modesto native and Sacramento State graduate, Dell came to The Bee after serving as publisher of McClatchy papers in Tacoma and Kennewick, Wash. She took on a prominent role in the Sacramento business community, serving on boards of such organizations as Valley Vision and the former Sacramento Area Commerce and Trade Organization.

Besides taking the top job at The Bee, Wortel will oversee regional operations at McClatchy’s nine other papers in California, Washington state and Idaho. The California papers are the Fresno and Modesto Bees, the Merced Sun-Star and the Tribune of San Luis Obispo.

Publishers of McClatchy’s Miami Herald, Kansas City Star, and News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C., will oversee clusters of newspapers in their geographic regions as well. The regional structure “sharpens our ability to move faster on both a local and national level, and underscores our desire to work differently to accelerate the pace of our digital transition,” said President and Chief Executive Craig Forman, who took over two months ago and has pledged to move faster on digital initiatives.

The individual papers overseen by the regional publishers will retain their own publishers, according to the company.

Wortel, 60, has spent his career in the newspaper business, having served as Fort Worth’s publisher since 2007. He worked in a variety of business positions at papers from the San Jose Mercury News to the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press. He is a graduate of San Jose State University.

“The Star-Telegram has been my home the past nine years, but this opportunity to help our media company build an even stronger future was too big to pass up,” Wortel told the Fort Worth paper.

Dale Kasler: 916-321-1066, @dakasler