Disheartened by news that incoming owner McClatchy (MNI) plans to sell 12 of the 32 newspapers it is acquiring from Knight Ridder (KRI), employees of one paper on the chopping block have turned to the Web to save their journalistic heritage.
The staff of Knight Ridder's San Jose Mercury News, one of the country's most respected newspapers, has created a site called savethemerc.com. It's a fitting forum for a newspaper that has aggressively embraced the Web (see BW Online, 3/20/06, "Newspapers: From Print to Pixels").
GRAB BAG OF TITLES. Staff and supporters say in a statement on the site that they fear "substantial cost-cutting and smaller staffs would follow a sale. The impact on our community of readers and advertisers would be severe."
Supporters want to make sure the Mercury News and other newspapers slated to be spun off wind up in friendly hands. They aim to enlist the support of "worker friendly" private-equity firms to buy the Merc and eight other Knight Ridder newspapers. Founded in 1851, the Merc, as it is known colloquially, has been ranked among the top 10 U.S. newspapers by the Columbia Journalism Review.
Save The Merc has proposed the creation of a new owner, tentatively called ValuePlus Media. It would include the Akron Beacon Journal, the Duluth News Tribune, the Grand Forks Herald, the Lexington Herald-Leader, the Monterey County Herald, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Philadelphia Daily News, Saint Paul Pioneer Press, and the Merc.
SOMETHING OF A SHOCK. Local leaders are getting behind the effort. A statement of support was signed by more than two dozen officials, including U.S. Rep Zoe Lofgren and former Mayor Susan Hammer. "We do not want the sale of the Mercury News to lead to a smaller, less ambitious newspaper," the statement says. "Without an experienced news-gathering and advertising sales staff, the quality of the newspaper's coverage and effectiveness as an advertising tool would be diminished."
Even Knight Ridder CEO Tony Ridder is worried about the sale of the Mercury News. He was pressured to sell last year by investors, including financier and shareholder activist Carl Icahn. McClatchy appeared to be an ideal buyer from the employees' point of view, because it wasn't expected to dismantle the news empire. Ridder's response to the news of the planned sale: "I was just stunned," he told a Mercury News reporter.