Head of Glenn Beck’s Media Empire Quits as The Blaze Burns Down
Kraig Kitchin will stay with the company, but resigned from the top job after friction with fellow Beck executive Jonathan Schreiber. A ‘mass exodus’ of staff may follow.
In what knowledgeable observers say is a sign of increasing turmoil in Glenn Beck’s troubled media empire, Beck’s longtime mentor and corporate executive, Kraig Kitchin, has quit as CEO of The Blaze.
Kitchin’s replacement, Stewart Padveen, a digital startup entrepreneur who joined Beck’s company last summer, will be the fourth leader of The Blaze since late 2014.
Kitchin, 54, who took over operations of Beck’s conservative-leaning subscription digital and cable television enterprise last June—after two previous CEOs abruptly left in the space of six months—is resigning along with two other senior executives: Jeremy Price, director of advertising sales, and Liz Julis, director of marketing.
Both are based in New York, 1,500 miles removed from corporate headquarters in the Dallas suburb of Irving, Texas.
Several other key employees, including at least two senior producers based in The Blaze’s shrinking New York operation, are expected to follow them out the door.
A source close to the situation predicted a “mass exodus” from the New York studios, which are housed in a largely unoccupied 35,000 square-foot space at Midtown Manhattan’s Bryant Park, previously rented by Yahoo, under a 10-year lease costing Beck’s privately held company an estimated $2 million a year.
Kitchin—who co-founded Premiere Radio Networks three decades ago and has worked with personalities as diverse as Rush Limbaugh, Ryan Seacrest, Whoopi Goldberg, and Beck—tried to put the best face on his resignation in a company-wide email sent out Thursday night.
He described his apparently self-imposed demotion as a result of outside business obligations.
“Our organization—The Blaze—deserves and needs an exclusively focused leader and that’s something I cannot provide, given existing commitments I choose to honor,” Kitchin wrote, adding that “I’m not leaving this company. I’ll stay with The Blaze, working every day as the Interim Head of Sales with a focus on finding the right person for that position, assisting in the transition, on advertiser growth, program development, and industry relations.”
But according to multiple sources, Kitchin’s announcement comes out of frustration after continual friction with top Beck executive Jonathan Schreiber, the recently named president of Beck’s 14-year-old production company, Mercury Radio Arts.
According to multiple sources, Kitchin—who commuted from his home in Los Angeles to Dallas and New York—took the CEO job on an interim basis with the condition that Schreiber would agree not to interfere in The Blaze, an agreement that Kitchin realized was continually being breached. According to people familiar with the situation, Schreiber’s alleged meddling in Kitchin’s operation ultimately became intolerable.
Schreiber didn’t respond to an email from The Daily Beast, and Kitchin declined to comment.
Named president in April 2015 of Mercury Radio Arts—of which The Blaze is a subsidiary, all of it majority-owned by Beck—Schreiber is said to have a penchant for interfering in areas beyond his expertise, namely the staffing and content of The Blaze’s news and opinion site and its television production operation.
The Blaze cable channel reaches an estimated 13 million households which subscribe to DISH, Verizon Fios, and other paid television carriers.
Schreiber’s alleged intrusion is said to have also figured in the departure in June of then-Blaze chief executive Betsy Morgan, an experienced digital media executive who previously ran CBS News’s digital operations, helped grow The Huffington Post, and built TheBlaze.com into a news and aggregation site that—in November 2014—attracted 29 million unique visitors per month.
But by November 2015—according to figures from the Web traffic measuring service Quantcast—monthly traffic for TheBlaze.com had dropped to 16.4 million unique visitors, and traffic for the associated website GlennBeck.com, had plunged from 4.4 million to 1.4 million uniques.
Morgan—ironically, according to sources—had recommended Schreiber to Beck and helped secure his initial position with the company, shouldering a vague responsibility for “strategy and special projects.”
A religious man who practices Orthodox Judaism, Schreiber quickly hit it off with Beck, a devout Mormon convert.
Morgan had replaced Beck’s longtime CEO Chris Balfe, who abruptly exited the company in December 2014, along with fellow exec Joel Cheatwood, as Schreiber was gaining more prominence and influence.
Balfe, who along with Cheatwood retains a minority ownership stake in The Blaze, left after more than a decade of helping Beck build his brand and become a media personality, and was instrumental in the soft launch of The Blaze six years ago while Beck was still hosting his short-lived but wildly popular 5 p.m. program on the Fox News Channel.
Stewart Padveen, Schreiber’s personal friend and “mentor” (as Schreiber describes him in a LinkedIn endorsement), will assume control of The Blaze effective Monday.
Padveen, who lives in Los Angeles, wrote in a staff email that he plans to visit Dallas “next week to kick off this process,” with a later trip planned to New York.
“2015 was a tough year for sure, but thanks to many of you, it was a profitable one,” Padveen wrote concerning this latest corporate shakeup.
“We all owe a debt of gratitude to Kraig for guiding us through some rough times. We still have some history to redress, but if we continue down the path of making solid business decisions, we can get past the past and into the future.”
Besides a period of staff layoffs and turnover that continues to this day, and despite claims of profitability, that “history” apparently includes taking on more debt than the company’s principal owner was comfortable with.
At a staff meeting in New York last February, Beck exhorted his employees to pinch pennies and said the company’s debt was too high at $3 million—a figure sources said later grew to $5 million or more.
“I know much of what has happened since December of 2014, but also much of it has been structural and behind the curtain,” Beck wrote in his own email, in which he thanked Kitchin for his service. “We were a company that was swimming in debt. With the hard work of Kraig, Jonathan, and now Misty [Kawecki, the chief financial officer] we will be debt free by summer. This is miraculous and takes all of the downward pressure off of us.”
Schreiber, a digital startup entrepreneur in his early forties, is a controversial and mysterious figure within Mercury Radio Arts. According to colleagues, he has referred to himself as a “diehard Glenn Beck fan” who, after years of living in Israel, relocated to New York, talked his way into Beck’s confidence, and showed up as a “trusted advisor,” as Beck has called him, in the fall of 2014.
“I want to thank Kraig for everything he has done to help bring the Blaze to the place it is,” Schreiber wrote in his own email, “and welcome Stewart to help bring the Blaze to the places it can go.”
In what a couple of Beck veterans considered ominous corporate-speak, Schreiber added: “All of us, leadership in BOTH companies, have worked together to help ensure that every person will be put into the right role at the right company with clear responsibilities and direction. This will continue to be a process and not an event.”