More is becoming clear in the wake of the Knight Ridder sale. (Note to self: Does any normal human being use the phrase “in the wake of” in everyday discourse? I didn’t think so.) The staff of 20 papers have reason to sleep far, far better at night, knowing they’ve been adopted by a good family. Twelve other staffs can look forward to a few more weeks of stomach-lining damage and 3 a.m. staring-at-the-ceiling sessions. My ex-paper is among the Dejected Dozen.
McClatchy, the good family, has already said it plans on a clean break, that it won’t even accept delivery of the unwanted 12, that the marketing begins today. Some prospective buyers are emerging, or at least being talked about. Fort Wayne is a particularly odd duck. What are you buying? A 75-percent share in a two-newspaper agency (the smallest city in the country to still have two dailies), combined daily circulation around 100K, family-owned dominant morning daily and a gasping, dwindling p.m., which would be yours. What’s more, the publisher of the a.m. partner is now saying she’s not interested in selling.
I don’t know what the choices would be. Could you buy the agency and fold the p.m. and just be a landlord to the a.m.? Don’t know if the JOA would allow that. Make the p.m. a shopper, or some other dead-man-walking publication, while you wait out the a.m. publisher’s resolve not to sell? Or is that resolve another way of saying, “My price just went up”? I really don’t know.
Here’s what I do know: A few days ago, a market analyst, speculating on this sale, said that whatever the outcome, the affected papers will be in for some serious cost-cutting, that it’s time to “cut the fat, and maybe even the muscle,” to service the debt a buyer would incur. I laughed out loud. Fat? The fat at my paper went out the door sometime in 2002. Much of the muscle followed. Today The News-Sentinel is a double amputee. An entire department has vanished from the newsroom, and others operate with skeleton crews, although the desks remain, or did. That was one of the long-term goals about the time I left — to rearrange the furniture and get rid of all those empty chairs that were bumming everybody out.
I’m going to stop reading about all this, I think, and just file it all in the drawer marked Why It Was a Good Idea to Leave. Page? Turned. Future? Uncertain. Path? Murky. Also: Bet on Gannett.