Daily newspaper readers in 20 cities around the country will soon be getting acquainted with a new publisher. The McClatchy Company is buying the Knight Ridder newspaper chain. The deal means new ownership for The Miami Herald, The Kansas City Star and The Charlotte Observer, among others.
McClatchy Chairman Gary Pruitt says readers who want to know what's in store for their newspapers should look at how his company has operated in the past. Newspapers have been a family business at McClatchy for almost 150 years, since James McClatchy began publishing the Sacramento Daily Bee back in 1857. His descendants still hold voting control of the company. James' great-great-grandchildren now sit on the company's board.
James McClatchy was drawn to California by the Gold Rush, and the company continues to focus on fast-growing markets. McClatchy bought the Anchorage Daily News in the late 1970s. Its biggest paper, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, was bought in 1998.
Wherever it's gone, McClatchy has built a reputation for running high-quality papers.
"They"re certainly profit-motivated," but not at the expense of journalism, says Jack Bates, executive director of the California Newspaper Publishers Association. "Some newspaper acquisitions have resulted in kind of emasculating some of the news operation with such great emphasis on the profitability. And I think McClatchy's managed that very, very well. They've maintained good news organization and still have kept their profits at a reasonable level," Bates says.
The chain has won 13 Pulitzer Prizes for reporting on issues such as the environmental risks of hog farming in North Carolina and the high rate of suicide among native Alaskans.
Knight Ridder veteran Jacqui Banaszynski, who now teaches journalism at the University of Missouri, says the company has lived up to its motto that good journalism is good business.
"They've been very strategic and have plotted out a long-range vision and as a result, because they had such a solid base from the Bees, and from their long-time history on the west coast, they haven't had to scramble as much lately as some of the other companies," Banaszynski says.
McClatchy has been very successful in cultivating online advertising. But it hasn't abandoned its traditional readers. Along with several other publishers, McClatchy owns a stake in its own newsprint factory outside Spokane, Wash. Tom Garrett of the Ponderay Newsprint Company is glad to hear McClatchy bucking a trend away from the daily paper.
"We recognize that the younger generation is more interested in acquiring their news from sources other than the newspaper," Garrett says. The mill actively tries to cultivate younger readers.
Until last year, McClatchy had managed to boost circulation of its newspapers every year for two decades. Chairman Pruitt says the Knight Ridder acquisition will let his company do more of what it does best.