McClatchy CEO Pruitt: We’ve Got No Beef With Google

By: Jennifer Saba

The McClatchy Co. is in no rush to block giant aggregators like Google or throw up pay walls, Chairman and CEO Gary Pruitt said Tuesday in his keynote address to the Borrell Associates Local Online Advertising Conference in New York City.

Strategic arrangements with Yahoo and Google drive 20% of traffic to McClatchy Web sites, he said. “To disengage is to risk marginalization,” Pruitt said.

Pruitt’s remarks position McClatchy in direct opposition to the stance of News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch, who urges newspapers to join him in assailing the Internet giant for taking newspaper content.

In fact, McClatchy credits its success in building online revenue to its alignments with several different Internet players including Yahoo, and CareerBuilder. Pruitt told the Borrell conference that online revenue in 2009 accounted for 16% of total revenue — up from 11% in 2008.

During the question and answer session, Pruitt was asked about the “ideal” advertising split of print and online. “It doesn’t have to be fifty-fifty because the Internet is a more efficient model,” he replied.

Pruitt takes an opposing view from Murdoch on paid content as well. Murdoch has said News Corp. intends to erect pay walls at all its newspapers.

“We are very comfortable with free content supported by advertising,” Pruitt said. “We don’t view it as fatally flawed. That said, if we could make ad revenue with paid products we would.”

In an earnings conference call with analysts in late January, Pruitt said McClatchy is open to experimenting with some pay models at one or two of its Web sites.

The famously casual Pruitt happily dressed down for the occasion of his keynote. “I get to wear blue jeans at this conference,” he said.

Pruitt ended his speech by quoting the philosopher Bertrand Russell who was once asked if he would die for his ideas. “Of course not,” Russell replied, “I might be wrong.”

“Please keep this in mind,” Pruitt concluded.

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