If the remains of The McClatchy Company go on the bankruptcy court’s auction block July 8, it won’t be hard to imagine James McClatchy rolling in his grave.
With more than 20 bidders expressing interest in McClatchy, in part or in whole, ownership of his first paper, The Sacramento Bee, could pass from his family to some hedge fund or national chain two or three time zones away.
McClatchy joined the paper started in 1857 by Rollin Ridge, a Native American writer who took on McClatchy as a partner and editor. When McClatchy died in 1883, he had built the paper’s reputation for fighting corporate and political corruption in defense of the public interest. The McClatchy family soon bought out Ridge and expanded the company, buying nearby papers like The Fresno Bee on the way to becoming a national chain of mid-sized papers including The News Tribune of Tacoma and three other Washington dailies.
McClatchy declared bankruptcy late last year. If the company does not negotiate a sale, the court will weigh bids in July. The McClatchy family is expected to lose control of the company.
McClatchy’s bankruptcy team says potential investors have filed more than 20 formal letters of interest in buying all or part of the company. I sought comment from Brown McClatchy Malone of Sequim, who sits on the McClatchy board. He can’t comment on the process, but said he follows coverage of it.
The McClatchy Company is a minority shareholder of The Seattle Times Company, dating back to a Depression-era Blethen family deal with the Ridder brothers, whose company eventually became part of McClatchy. McClatchy’s representatives on the board have a voice, but the Blethen Company exercises the controlling interest in the company and was established to ensure continuity and professional management, Times Publisher Frank Blethen said.
Here’s a quick summary of the news about the latest efforts to save the free press system.
- NewsGuild, the leading newsroom employees’ union, launched on Monday its campaign to include subsidies for journalists in the next round of economic stimulus. Called “Save The News”, it is a first for the union, which has previously focused on union-organizing efforts and not lobbying.
- U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, announced she is leading a bipartisan team of fellow senators who seek to revise the rules of the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) that subsidizes small business payrolls. Newspapers around Washington had been shut out of the program because they are owned by companies with more than 1,000 employees. Cantwell proposes to redefine small businesses, looking at the number of news organization employees at each site.
- Bracing for backlash, a contributor to MediaPost an online trade journal, told publishers to be ready for opposition to proposals for economic stimulus that focuses on newsrooms. “Parts of the Twitterverse practically erupted with glee when media outlets cut jobs, urging the newly employed to ‘learn to code’” wrote Rob Williams, who warned colleagues to be prepared for hostility toward bailouts.
- Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg took his local-ownership-for-the-Sacramento-Bee campaign to bankruptcy court last week, arguing the judge in the McClatchy Company bankruptcy should favor local bidders for local papers in the asset auction scheduled for July 8.
- The Minneapolis suburbs and other Minnesota towns have already lost six weekly papers this year. Media analysts predict weeklies, often a mainstay of community life, will be hardest hit by the pandemic-driven economic seize-up.
- Facebook unveiled its 20-member content oversight board last week, proclaiming this new band of worthies will have independent powers to rein in hate speech, harassment and protect privacy. But critics almost universally dissed the program, noting that only one vote matters at Facebook: Mark Zuckerberg’s. And so far, he has favored limited regulation of speech on the platform.
- As Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund, tightens its hold on Tribune Publishing, the chain of big metropolitan newspapers announced it will furlough 160 union staffers per week to save costs during the advertising slowdown brought on by the pandemic.
- Some U.S. House Democrats are proposing legislation that will designate radio station employees essential workers eligible for hazard pay.
Worth noting as Congress begins pondering stimulus funds for the news media is the study by a team led out of the University of Notre Dame College of Business, which found that when a local newspaper dies, local government borrowing costs rise.
Three reasons it’s worth saving local journalism:
This year’s winner of the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing is Jeffery Gerritt, editor of the tiny Palestine Herald-Press in East Texas. He persisted in exposing jailhouse deaths the sheriff had dismissed as “Not news.” The series, “Death without conviction” looked at the in-jail deaths of people not convicted of a crime.
The Rapid City Journal dug up evidence that the sinkholes swallowing homes in the Hideaway Hills subdivision are connected to underground mines that were known to county officials when they approved building permits there.
Indiana’s Attorney General has lost his license to practice law as a result of Indianapolis Star’s reports that he groped several women.
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