Three private equity firms are considering a bid for newspaper publisher Knight Ridder Inc., The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

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NEW YORK — Three private equity firms are considering a bid for Knight Ridder Inc., the newspaper publisher whose three largest shareholders are pressing for a sale, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

The Blackstone Group L.P., Providence Equity Partners Inc. and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. are in the early stages of preparing a bid for the San Jose, Calif.-based company, which publishes 32 newspapers around the country including The Miami Herald and The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Journal, quoting unnamed people familiar with the talks, said the three firms were interested but concerned that the company’s market value of $4 billion is too high. Representatives from Knight Ridder and the three investment firms did not immediately return calls for comment.

Knight Ridder has been under heavy pressure from its largest shareholder, Private Capital Management, to boost its share price. Last month PCM demanded that Knight Ridder put itself up for sale, and two other large investors followed suit.

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Like other newspaper publishers, Knight Ridder has fallen badly out of favor on Wall Street over the past year as more readers and advertisers move to the Internet. Newspaper circulation is also in a long-term decline, and costs for newspapers including newsprint and employee benefits such as health care are rising.

In a holiday season message to employees dated Wednesday, Knight Ridder’s chairman, Tony Ridder, said that the demands from the three shareholders, who collectively own 37 percent of the company, have “left us all in a state of uncertainty, and I regret that.”

He also said it appeared that Private Capital “is targeting us for one reason: We have a single class of stock, meaning that exceptional voting rights are not reserved for the founding families. In Knight Ridder, all shareholders have the same rights.” The memo was posted on a newspaper industry Web site run by the Poynter Institute.

Most other newspaper companies have special shareholder rights for the founding families, including The New York Times Co., The Washington Post Co., and Dow Jones & Co., publisher of The Wall Street Journal. In addition to Knight Ridder, industry leader Gannett Co. and Tribune Co., another major publisher, also have single-class stock systems.

Knight Ridder shares rose 53 cents to close at $60.93 Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange.