In Unusual Agreement, ‘Post-Dispatch’ Will Remain Liberal Under Lee

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By: Mark Fitzgerald

When Lee Enterprises Inc. agreed to purchase Pulitzer Inc. for $1.46 billion, it also agreed that the flagship St. Louis Post-Dispatch will keep its longstanding liberal editorial slant for at least the next five years, according to the purchase agreement mailed to Pulitzer shareholders Friday.

“For a period of at least five years following the Effective Time, Parent (Lee Enterprises) will cause the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to maintain its current name and editorial page platform statement and to maintain its news and editorial headquarters in the City of St. Louis, Missouri,” the agreement states.

The Post-Dispatch platform statement, adopted in 1911, includes the pledge that the newspaper “will always fight for progress and reform, never tolerate injustice or corruption, always fight demagogues of all parties, never belong to any party, always oppose privileged classes and public plunderers, never lack sympathy with the poor, always remain devoted to the public welfare, never be satisfied with merely printing news, always be drastically independent, never be afraid to attack wrong, whether by predatory plutocracy or predatory poverty.”

Over the years, the paper’s editorials have taken a reliably Democratic or liberal view of issues, positions some worried would change under Lee’s ownership.

Lee had previously told employees that it has “has always been cautious about making changes to longstanding editorial positions of the newspaper.” In a question-and-answer sheet distributed soon after the January announcement of the purchase, Lee said it lets “local publishers and editors … decide what positions are best for their communities.”

Putting a condition like that in the actual purchase agreement, however, is unusual, said one broker, who demanded anonymity. “First off, why would they be worried about Lee taking the paper out of St. Louis?” the broker said. “But the editorial viewpoint, I think that’s been mentioned in some of the deals we’ve done…but it is not typical at all.”

The agreement, included in proxy materials mailed to shareholders for a special June 3 meeting to approve the purchase by Lee, also provides that Pulitzer will have a say in the appointment of an new editor if Post-Dispatch Editor Ellen Soeteber “is replaced within five years following the Effective Time, whether by reason of her resignation or removal or for any other reason.” Lee, the agreement states, “will not appoint or allow to be appointed a new editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch without the prior consultation” with a person designated by Pulitzer.

The proxy materials also state that Pulitzer expects that Lee will continue to employ the Post-Dispatch’s publisher and president, Terrence C.Z. Egger, who is also a Pulitzer senior vice president. Also staying, Pulitzer said, is Matthew G. Kraner, the newspaper’s general manager and a Pulitzer vice president.

Pulitzer President and CEO Robert C. Woodworth will be “terminated,” the proxy materials say, though he may also be retained as a consultant. Pulitzer said Woodworth will be paid $8,804,132 in severance payment.

The formal vote on Lee’s all-cash $64 per share purchase will be held at 9 a.m. June 3 at the New York Palace Hotel in New York City.

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