Jun 1 2006


[Note: This piece is a sidebar to ‘Wall Street Does Not Like Newspapers’.]

Since CounterSpin’s interview with Ben Bagdikian, McClatchy has announced a pending deal that will turn over four of the former Knight Ridder papers—the St. Paul Pioneer Press, San Jose Mercury News, Contra Costa Times and Monterey County Herald—to the Denver-based MediaNews Group.

With the addition of the three Northern California dailies, MediaNews, which already owns the Oakland Tribune, San Mateo Times and Marin Independent Journal, among other local publications, is poised to become a powerful regional media force.

The San Jose Newspaper Guild, a union representing workers at the San Jose and Monterey papers, told the San Francisco Chronicle (4/27/06) that the deal was “bad news for newspaper workers, readers, advertisers and for our communities. The Guild is concerned that the creation of a MediaNews Bay Area empire would concentrate media ownership and deprive Bay Area readers of the quality and depth of news coverage offered by more varied ownership.” The San Jose union’s parent, the Newspaper Guild-Communication Workers of America, has been trying to buy some or all of the 12 former Knight Ridder papers put up for sale by McClatchy.

Newsroom concerns are partly driven by the reputation of MediaNews owner Dean Singleton, a regular contributor to Republican candidates and a Bush family friend. With the exception of his company’s flagship paper, the Denver Post, which he reportedly is grooming to be one of the country’s top dailies, Singleton has a reputation for ruthlessly cutting budgets and staffs. After buying the Oakland Tribune in 1993, for example, he cut the paper’s staff from 630 to 280 (Columbia Journalism Review, 3-4/03).

In 1999, Singleton told Editor & Publisher (9/18/99) what he saw as a key problem in the newspaper business:

We, as an industry, got carried away with investigative reporting. . . . We investigated everything that moved, while circulation plummeted because our readers didn’t want it. Some people say we owe it to readers to give them what they need. Bullshit.

As Extra! went to press, eight of the 12 Knight Ridder “orphans” were still on the block. The Newspaper Guild-Communication Workers of America are said to remain “very interested” in the remaining papers (L.A. Times, 5/1/06).