By: E&P Staff
In an angry column in Friday’s editions, the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s chief columnist Nick Coleman excoriates The McClatchy Co. and its CEO Gary Pruitt for abandoning the paper for the most venal of reasons, and weakening its rival St. Paul Pioneer Press in the process.
Coleman wrote: “You are what you eat. So when McClatchy swallowed the larger Knight Ridder newspaper chain last spring, a lot of people worried that the $6.1 billion deal would spell trouble in the Twin Cities.
“Both newspapers here were in play: the Star Tribune, as the ‘flagship’ of McClatchy, and the Pioneer Press (where I worked for 17 years) as one of the Ridder heritage newspapers.
“We were right to worry.”
Coleman, who worked at the Pioneer Press for 17 years, noted that McClatchy sold the paper to MediaNews Group, which promptly laid off journalists. Now that McClatchy has agreed to sell the Star Tribune to private equity group Avista Capital Partners at a loss that includes tax advantages, Coleman added, McClatchy has left both of the Twin Cities papers “weakened” and owned by companies with no real concerns about local issues.
One thing is clear from the sale, he wrote: “A newspaper company abandoned its employees and readers, for profit, not principle.”
The sale disgraces the legacy of the James McClatchy, who died in May, eight years after calling the company’s purchase of the Star Tribune a merger of companies that shared “a deep-rooted commitment to building a just society.”
“Mercifully, Mr. McClatchy passed away in May and did not live to see the Sacramento-based company that bore his name disgrace his legacy by dumping its largest newspaper — the most important one between Chicago and the West Coast, the one that serves 5 million Minnesotans and that can be a c! conscience, a scold, a cheerleader and an interpreter of life on the tundra,” Coleman wrote. “Despite lip service to the cause of quality journalism, in the end McClatchy folded like a cheap lawn chair under a steady gale of Wall Street demands.”
Coleman wrote that when McClatchy bought the Star Tribune in 1998, it “second-tier chain that had 10 dailies and a profit margin of 13%.” Now, he notes, “after buying its way into a far better club by using the Star Tribune for leverage,” it has 32 dailies and a its margin runs at 26%.”
In its sale announcement, McClatchy noted that the Star Tribune has lagged in margins behind the group average, and that had it not been in the chain advertising revenue would have been up 1% for the company as a whole.
“Which shows that the McClatchy Co. lost more than a patriarch when James McClatchy died. It lost its compass,” Coleman wrote. “There’s the market for you: The Star Tribune held down ad sales one percent. So One-Percent Pruitt axed his best newspaper. Brilliant.”
Coleman noted that at the time of the 1998 purchase Pruitt called the Star Tribune “one of the best newspapers in this country” with an attractive market that was a “near-perfect fit in terms of values and traditions” with McClatchy.
“We didn’t change. But you, Mr. Pruitt? We don’t recognize you anymore. So long. Don’t bother to write,” Coleman concluded.