Willes, imported five years ago from General Mills, soon found himself labeled variously as "Captain Crunch" and "The Cereal Killer" for his emphasis on downsizing. Upon taking over the company, he promptly closed two beloved newspapers, the Baltimore Evening Sun and New York Newsday. But he most drew the ire of media critics with his vow to take a "bazooka" to the "Chinese wall" that newspapers traditionally maintain to insulate the news department from the concerns of the business department. Matters came to a head last December, with the disclosure that the paper had split advertising profits from a special issue of its Sunday magazine with its subject, the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles. In a long mea culpa, the paper later described the incident as "a flagrant violation of the paper's editorial independence" and, in an unprecedented move, the deal was criticized publicly by Otis Chandler, the former publisher and a major stockholder.
It appears to have been the last straw according to his own newspaper, Mr. Willes was "totally surprised" when he learned of the negotiations with Tribune. Upon hearing the news, and as if to say "my work here is finished," Willes announced that he will leave the firm as soon as the merger is completed, which he expected to be in three to six months. Given his spectacular ability to please shareholders, he probably won't be without a job for long. However, it probably won't be at another newspaper company.