The daily newspapers of Olympia, Bellingham and Boise will have a new owner after a complex swap between the nation's two largest newspaper...

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The daily newspapers of Olympia, Bellingham and Boise will have a new owner after a complex swap between the nation’s two largest newspaper chains.

San Jose, Calif.-based Knight Ridder will take over The Olympian in the state capital and The Bellingham Herald, along with The Idaho Statesman in Boise. The three papers have been owned by McLean, Va.-based Gannett.

The swap is part of a series of deals announced yesterday between the two companies that also involves papers in Florida and Michigan.

Gannett is getting from Knight Ridder the Tallahassee (Fla.) Democrat and an undisclosed amount of cash. Separately, Gannett said it was buying the Detroit Free Press from Knight Ridder, and MediaNews Group will take ownership of The Detroit News from Gannett. The two papers operate in a joint-operating agreement in which they maintain separate news operations, but share business functions.

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The deal, subject to regulatory review, will close once that process is completed, probably the first week in September, the companies said in a news release.

About 800 employees at the three Northwest newspapers learned about the divestiture during meetings yesterday.

“They were told we were very sorry to see them go, but this was a strategic decision for us,” said Tara Connell, Gannett vice president for corporate communications.

“We loved them and are turning them over to a company with a great reputation that puts them in good hands.”

Connell said the exchange made sense for both companies, with Gannett wanting to increase its presence in Florida by acquiring the Democrat and Knight Ridder seeking a stronger presence in the Pacific Northwest.

Doug Underwood, a University of Washington associate professor who has written extensively on the newspaper industry, said Knight Ridder, like Gannett, is primarily concerned with its newspapers’ financial performance but has a reputation for better-quality journalism than Gannett.

“In terms of sheer [newsroom] resources, I wouldn’t expect much to change,” said Underwood, a former journalist. But a talented editor from Knight Ridder might want to move to a community like Olympia, he said, and the highly educated community there might respond to a more-aggressive newspaper.

Gannett publishes 101 daily newspapers in the United States, including USA Today.

Knight Ridder is the nation’s second-largest newspaper publisher, with 32 daily newspapers in 29 markets, including Miami and Philadelphia, and a minority stake in The Seattle Times.

Privately held MediaNews Group of Denver, headed by Dean Singleton, owns The Denver Post and 39 other daily newspapers in nine states.

Seattle Times business reporter Tom Boyer contributed to this story.