Motherless children.

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.

Posted at 9:09 am in Media |

11 responses to “Motherless children.”

  1. brian stouder said on March 14, 2006 at 9:51 am

    “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.”

    Well – to me the interesting piece is that a major capital investment is being made at Fort Wayne Newspapers (the all new press building across the street) –

    but I don’t understand how the JOA bears upon that.

    Quite possibly being a landlord plus a partner in the new printing operation (which presumeably will be state of the art, and be able to produce all manner of advertising and commercial printing, plus satellite newspaper production)…. in which case your Gannett guess sounds good

    666 chars

  2. brian stouder said on March 14, 2006 at 12:44 pm


    I’m sure Madam Telling Tales will link to this from her main page – but in case she’s being modest, go to

    Good stuff!

    166 chars

  3. Jim said on March 14, 2006 at 1:11 pm

    Wow, that is a great article. Newspapers are so bound by the motto, “Because that’s how we’ve always done it.”

    When I worked for The Goshen News, I covered meetings of the aviation board and the library board — yes, the libary board. And I would often ask why it was worth having a reporter sit for two hours at a meeting to come up with a 12-inch story on actions at the library board. The answer: “Because we’re the paper of record. Our readers expect that.”

    Of course I knew that nobody was buying the News because of my vigilant coverage of the airport board. The paper’s bread-and-butter was its sports coverage — people wanted to read about the local high school basketball team.

    There’s a big disconnect between what papers want to be and what the customers want. You could print an editorial calling the president of the United States a communist and get a few angry letters and maybe some phone calls; screw up the TV listings and you’ll be hearing nothing else but complaints for the rest of the week.

    I’m not sure how many newspaper editors have figured out that what they are selling is not paper, but the content on the paper. Right now, many people can get that content (to the degree they want) online — why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?

    Editors need to find a way to sell the content — in whatever medium.

    1365 chars

  4. nancy said on March 14, 2006 at 1:54 pm

    Actually, I think that was a premature release (if that doesn’t sound too dirty). It’s off the site now.

    That essay was written for the next print issue of the Indiana Policy Review, which won’t publish for another couple of weeks. The editor usually shares its contents elsewhere, but I don’t know if he meant for that to be public quite yet.

    Anyway, you’ll see it later. And I’ll link.

    394 chars

  5. Jim said on March 14, 2006 at 2:07 pm

    I hate those premature releases …

    35 chars

  6. brian stouder said on March 14, 2006 at 2:16 pm

    Well, Jim and I got the super secret sneak preview, before succumbing to premature release.

    The rest of you will just have to wait…

    136 chars

  7. Connie said on March 14, 2006 at 2:57 pm

    Well Jim, the Elkhart Truth has a library reporter, he usually just calls me up the next morning and asks me if anything interesting happened. I love it when I control the local news!

    184 chars

  8. Jim said on March 14, 2006 at 3:33 pm

    Connie, if you only knew how many times I suggested covering a meeting by phone …

    No, it made much more sense to have a reporter there for two hours, plus another hour writing the story.

    191 chars

  9. Dorothy said on March 14, 2006 at 4:12 pm

    I read the article and was duly impressed. I do a lot of worrying when I read about the current state of the newspaper business since I have a daughter so new to it. But the paper she works for is family owned and seems very stable. I just trust that everything will work out for her. She loves her copy editing job, and she’s learning design now, too.

    355 chars

  10. alex said on March 14, 2006 at 8:58 pm

    In the wake of… yes, that’s old-school journalese. Edward R. Murrow would talk like that. Eating the dust of would be a little more Gen X. In the queef of… there, now that’s more the style of the Gen Y and younger set.

    222 chars

  11. harry near indy said on March 15, 2006 at 5:43 am

    very good article, nancy.

    25 chars