In July 2011, the writers and editors of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel were called together in their ninth-floor newsroom in downtown Fort Lauderdale. It was a staff without a leader — Editor in Chief Earl Maucker had retired almost a year earlier, and the staff's numbers had dwindled to the point that section editors were now running the largest-circulation newspaper south of Orlando — at the time even larger than the Miami Herald. It didn't help that the paper's parent, the Tribune Co., had filed for bankruptcy.
Howard Saltz, a long-haired, handsome, 51-year-old newsman, was there to introduce himself as the paper's new editor. He seemed friendly, if a little nervous, standing not far from the elevator in a fancy suit. He was understandably eager to gain the staff's acceptance and told the room that he'd been unemployed for some time. He was glad, he said, to have a job:
"Turns out," Saltz said, "there's not a lot of money in just sitting around."
In fact, while he was sitting around, he lost a great deal. Court documents reveal he was essentially destitute: After losing five properties to lenders and then filing for bankruptcy himself just four months after his hiring, Saltz had $90 in cash to his name and two overdrawn checking accounts. Eventually, he would walk away from at least $3 million in debts, though his wife's bankruptcy filing suggests the number could be closer to $4 million.
Who did he stiff? Court filings show he owed tens of thousands to Bank of America, which the Sun-Sentinel has mentioned in 253 articles since he was hired. Then there was JPMorgan Chase, discussed in 119 pieces. Discover, Morgan Stanley, and other firms discussed in the Fort Lauderdale daily were all left holding Saltz's sizable bag.
Although it's not necessarily a direct conflict of interest, the situation raises questions, says Jeffrey Dvorkin, executive director of the Organization of News Ombudsmen and former ombudsman of National Public Radio. "It's an embarrassment, for sure," he says. "I think it should be a concern [to readers]."
Saltz declined to be interviewed for this article; he emailed a statement that failed to answer most of the questions posed by New Times. One question he didn't address: Why did his wife's bankruptcy filing list the couple's address as a Sun-Sentinel building in Deerfield Beach?
Dan Meyers was Saltz's boss on the business desk at the Denver Post, where Saltz had worked for most of the time he was investing. "I knew that Howard had real-estate investments, and I need to say that I don't see any problems with it," he says. "How many hundreds of thousands of people ran into problems with the downturn in the economy?"
Three present and former Sun-Sentinel staff members contacted by New Times knew nothing of the huge debts or bankruptcy. "You're kidding me," said one. "No way," said another. "Unbelievable," commented a third.
Saltz's career in journalism started when he was editor in chief of the Statesman, the student paper at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. His résumé on LinkedIn.com says he earned a bachelor's degree in history and mathematics; contacted by New Times, a spokesman at Stony Brook says it was actually in liberal studies.
After jobs in Connecticut and New Jersey, Saltz landed in 1988 with the MediaNews Group, a conglomerate founded by Dean Singleton and Richard Scudder five years earlier. He spent about a year as editor of a small paper in Hamilton, Ohio, before he was sent to another paper in Fremont, California, about 40 miles southeast of San Francisco. He was a company man, which caused problems with the rank and file, according to Jack Lyness, an editor who worked with Saltz at the paper and eventually took his place at the helm.
"Howard wasn't from around there, wasn't from Fremont or even California," Lyness says. "I always had the impression Howard's interests were in climbing the corporate ladder."
And climb he did: Soon he was editor in chief at Johnstown, Pennsylvania,'s Tribune-Democrat, where he stayed until 1996. "I loved working for him," says former Tribune-Democrat editor Mary Liebman. "He was always very serious... and I think maybe especially so because he became so successful so young."
Next, he was named deputy business editor of the Denver Post, the largest paper in the chain. But Saltz wouldn't be in the business section for long — two years later, he was promoted to deputy managing editor, then into a position as top editor of the fledgling version of DenverPost.com.
It was also around this time that he began getting serious about real estate, which a Post coworker who asked not to be named said distracted Saltz from his day job. "It was like, why doesn't anybody ever go up to him and say, 'Why are you always doing real-estate deals? Why don't you do some work?' " the colleague says. "If I ever write a novel and there's a character who's always doing real-estate deals at his desk, that's Howard Saltz."