Chris Avetisian - Guest Post
When Russ asked me to write a few words about our friendship over the years, I initially thought of documenting the fun times we had together. But that’s too easy. And who wants to hear about Russ, Steve Bentz and me trying to impress Jeff Johnson by flying to Chicago on Southwest Airlines--taking three stops to show we are financially responsible--while at the same time packing salami sandwiches and vodka in water bottles for all three legs, and almost getting booted from the plane because Steve sometimes just won’t stop. Or all the other whirlwind trips we took to scope out new inserting or press equipment with some pretty wacky salespeople that still boggle and cloud my mind. Yup, too easy, because Russ is a fun guy… once you get to know him.
You either love Russ or you don’t. Those who love him know that he tells the truth—to your face—without hesitation. If you need adjusting, he will tell you straight up. That bothers some people who cannot accept criticism and lack self-esteem. But I always considered his approach extremely valuable. It helped me survive the Tribune consolidation of Times Mirror, withstand the madness of the Zell takeover, and to thrive professionally even under difficult managers. I attribute a lot of my success to Russ’ honesty and courage. He told me what I needed to hear, not what I wanted to hear. Kind of like the Oracle from the Matrix.
The willingness to express his point of view is not one-sided. Russ will accept feedback, but you better have a well-developed argument with tangible, real-life examples to support your assertions. In addition, he respects other people’s point of view, even if it contradicts his belief system. For example, for many years Russ was an agnostic / atheist that would challenge those who believe in God. I am a Jehovah’s Witness, but Russ never judged or dismissed me because of my beliefs. Oh, he would challenge me and present solid arguments that would make me think. But he never was condescending or ill-willed.
We used to joke that Russ didn’t have a filter (he says my filter was damaged and flapping out of control), verbally expressing his thoughts without considering the implications. But I think he knew very well what he was doing. As expressed on this blog many times, Russ is extremely intelligent. Think about it. Without a college education, Russ successfully served as president and publisher of the San Diego Union Tribune and Times Community papers! Maybe that happens 50 years ago, but not today. And remember, the man who promoted Russ is pretty brilliant himself, namely Austin Beutner. Beutner knew what he was doing. He recognized Russ’ brilliance and leveraged his business acumen to achieve amazing results. And that is why listening to Russ yields positive outcomes. He’s a smart dude.
Having said all of that, my wife, Sonia, and I look forward to seeing Russ in a few days. We appreciate not only his honesty and frankness, but also his loyalty, his character, and his generous spirit. He is a good soul. You can’t ask for much more in a friend.