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Name and title: John S. Zieser, vice president-Corporate Employee Services Group, general counsel, corporate secretary Age: 43 Reading and watching: Based in Des Moines, Iowa, Meredith Corp. publishes several home and family-oriented magazines, including Better Homes and Gardens, Ladies’ Home Journal, Country Home, Traditional Home, Midwest Living and American Baby. Meredith also markets more than 165 “special interest” publications. The company’s broadcasting group owns 11 television stations nationwide, affiliated with the CBS, NBC, Fox or UPN networks. The 2,500-employee company reported $1.08 billion in revenues in fiscal year 2003, ending in June. Zieser’s domain: Zieser supervises four other in-house lawyers in Meredith’s law department, which he trimmed from nine when he became GC in 1999. In the last year, Zieser was put in charge of the company’s newly created Corporate Employee Services Group, an 80-employee operation that merges Meredith’s legal, human resources, public relations and lobbying functions. Zieser said he could easily justify 20 in-house lawyers to handle the legal work of his company’s publishing and broadcast operations. However, he said he prefers a leanly staffed unit, with “top-level lawyers who leverage themselves through outside counsel.” Zieser gives substantial functional responsibilities to his four staff attorneys, he said, assigning his deputies to magazines; other publishing and broadcast operations; and securities and corporate governance work. Better homes and lawsuits: Zieser manages a litigation docket of between 20 to 25 cases, he said, including “garden variety” employment disputes and both affirmative and defensive trademark lawsuits. The company’s television operations also give rise to occasional defamation and First Amendment litigation. For example, in April 2002, Meredith was sued by Janna Schwimmer, an elementary school principal in Kansas City, Mo. Schwimmer claimed that she was defamed by a news story on KCTV, Meredith’s local CBS affiliate, reporting that she participated in a strip search of students and subsequently resigned. In fact, Schwimmer was unaware of the search, which occurred when she was home caring for her own sick child, and she submitted her resignation before the incident. Schwimmer refused to accept a nominal settlement, said Zieser. On Sept. 30, after a two-day trial, a jury returned a defense verdict, apparently persuaded by Meredith’s argument that KCTV made an honest news-gathering mistake and lessened any reputational harm to Schwimmer by correcting its mistake in a later broadcast. “This case is a good example of how we approach litigation matters,” said Zieser. “If we believe we are right, and if the opposing party is being unreasonable or unrealistic . . . we have no hesitation to take the case to the jury.” Deals: Zieser played a key role in two major recent acquisitions. In June 2002, he helped to seal a deal with Fox Television Stations Inc. to exchange Meredith’s station in Orlando, Fla., for the Fox affiliate in Portland, Ore., where Meredith already owned the UPN affiliate. This swap left Meredith with a coveted “duopoly” in Portland’s television market, allowing the two stations to pool resources and reduce competition. Zieser said he was deeply involved in structuring the exchange, ensuring regulatory compliance and dealing with labor unions. In December 2002, Meredith closed a $115 million deal with Primedia Inc. to purchase American Baby, Childbirth and First Year of Life magazines and other assets. Zieser worked with staff lawyers and outside counsel on negotiations, due diligence and document preparation. Squeeze play: Meredith’s NBC affiliate in Nashville, Tenn., WSMV-TV, found itself in the news last year for reportedly speeding up programming to squeeze in more time for commercials. According to reports in the Nashville City Paper and Broadcasting & Cable magazine, a network executive confronted the affiliate with videotapes showing that the station used “compression technology” on the network feed of a West Wing episode to make extra time for a 30-second commercial. Zieser denied that the station put a squeeze on a network program. He acknowledged discussing the matter with NBC, but demurred on details. “We viewed this situation as simply a difference in contract interpretation between WSMV and NBC, and we don’t discuss the details of our network contracts publicly,” Zieser said. “I am highly confident that we will continue our long, positive relationship with NBC.” Principal outside counsel: New York’s Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz works on board governance, securities matters and corporate transactions. The Atlanta office of Hunton & Williams handles complex employment and union work and New York’s Satterlee Stephens Burke & Burke represents Meredith on trademark and copyright matters. Since arriving at Meredith, Zieser has strengthened the company’s relationship with Des Moines firms, including Belin Lamson McCormick Zumbach Flynn and Nyemaster, Goode, Voigts, West, Hansell & O’Brien. These firms work on deals, new client relationships and IP matters. Midwest living: A native of Belle Plaine, Iowa, and the son of an auto dealer father and homemaker mother, Zieser earned a B.A. in 1982 and an MBA in 1983 from the University of Iowa. He is a 1986 graduate of Cornell Law School, where he was senior editor of the law review. After law school, Zieser worked for a year as a tax associate at Sutherland Asbill & Brennan before moving to the D.C. office of New York-based Sullivan & Cromwell. At Sullivan, he concentrated on international transactions, serving extended stints at Sullivan’s offices in London and Melbourne, Australia. In 1993, Zieser returned to America’s heartland, going in-house at Omaha, Neb.-based First Data Corp., an information services and transaction processing company. In 1996, he moved to the company’s new headquarters in Atlanta, where he headed operations of subsidiary First Data Merchant Services Corp. Zieser was hired as Meredith’s general counsel in January 1999. Personal: John and Adele Zieser, a former financial services consultant, have three children: John, 12, Philip, 10, and Allison, 6. Last book and movie: The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown, and Seabiscuit. - William C. Smith

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