A SLIGHT SHIFT AT HEARST: On Wednesday, Frank Bennack Jr. ceded at least one of his titles to Steven Swartz.

Even if he’s still not retired and is hanging on to the title of chief executive officer, Bennack named Swartz president of Hearst Corp., a bump up from chief operating officer. Bennack previously held both titles.

The promotion seems nominal at best — wasn’t Swartz already number two? But Bennack explained it’s an expanded role.

With his new title, Swartz “continues to increase his day-to-day responsibilities in helping to run the corporation,” Bennack said.

Does the promotion mean Swartz will have a larger portfolio from the one he had before as chief operating officer, or be independent from Bennack in front of the board? A spokesman declined to elaborate.

“Steve is the number-two executive at Hearst Corp., working side-by-side the chief executive officer, Frank Bennack. Along with Bennack, his responsibilities include oversight of Hearst’s seven units,” the spokesman said. The units include magazines, broadcasting, newspapers and syndication.

For industry observers, the announcement has only cemented Bennack’s reputation as the kind of executive who’ll give up his grip on the kingdom only when he has to.

Bennack retired in 2002 after he had already been at Hearst for nearly as long as Helen Gurley Brown’s pink office, and had spent 23 years as its president and ceo. He returned to the helm in 2008 after Victor Ganzi, his successor, was ousted by the Hearst family.

Notoriously hands-on, Bennack was a force to be reckoned with, perhaps too powerful after so many years in charge, but for the Hearst family, he was a rock. He rescued the company from the brink after two calamitous years starting in 1975 under John R. Miller and steered it through some of the most difficult years for the industry in general. His investment in ESPN in 1990 proved highly lucrative.

Recently, he has been signaling his retirement as imminent, even designating Swartz in public as his successor. But the official date keeps getting further and further away.

In remarks about succession, he has offered encouraging words about Swartz — sort of. In November at the Paley Center, Bennack said the ceo’s title was “[Swartz’s] to lose.”

The announcement Wednesday struck some like an extension of steps already taken to prepare the company and the board for a time when Bennack wants to retire, even if that moment is far in the future. And it allows him to reward a loyal deputy with a new title — and likely a raise — without giving up his say in every decision made at Hearst Tower.

“There’s nothing new to this. [Bennack] will continue in charge,” said an industry source who is not at a competitor.

Swartz was appointed chief operating officer in March 2011, after having overseen Hearst’s newspaper division of 15 daily papers for two years as its president.

A former reporter, Swartz was the founding editor of SmartMoney magazine when it was launched by Hearst and Dow Jones in 1991.

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