Ron Burkle got quite a welcome from the press. No sooner had he announced the intention of his venture fund, Yucaipa Cos., to bid on Knight Ridder properties than he ran afoul of the press, or maybe ran into the foul press. Reports are flowing out of the NY tabs, with the main allegation being that a NY Post freelance contributor to its Page Six gossip column had tried to extort $220,000, in exchange for "not reading bad stories." With newsprint use on the decline in the current cost squeeze, that's a strategy that other publishers may want to think about -- getting paid not to publish. Without the nasty extortion schemes of course.
Since Mr. Burkle seems to be undeterred in his quest to buy the Knight Ridder Dirty Dozen, the 12 papers to be divested by McClatchy soon as it can, Content Bridges offers a few questions we're hoping he's pondering:
- With your experience in licensing (you advised Michael Jackson on when best to sell his Beatles' rights), can you bring your licensing chops to content monetization, a skill the industry badly needs?
- Though you've got about 2 billion dollars in the bank and don't need financial partners in the deal, have you given some thought to strategic partners that might be helpful?
- With the Bay Area's papers on the line, could these strategic partners include a Yahoo (whose board you sit on), a Google or an E-Bay to get fresh digital blood thinking about publishing opportunities?
- Could a public media investor with Knight Ridder roots, like Jeff Skoll ("Syriana," "Good Night and Good Luck," "North Country"), bring a whole new perspective to such a public medium as a newspaper?
- What kind of experience can you bring from the grocery industry, in which cutting costs (health care, wages) in the face of Walmart competition, may be applicable to the legacy news industry under attack by lower-cost upstarts?
- With the Guild in your corner and as a friendly non-investing partner, what kind of thought have you given to how you can make workforce changes (multimedia retraining for reporters and ad salespeople, for instance) and keep your friends on your side?
- With community blogging and citizen journalism catching on here and there, how can you best bring this power to your notion of papers published in the public (and employee) good?
- Can you convince Bob Hall, former Inqy publisher and your senior advisor, to come out of retirement and take a fuller role in your new publishing company?
- Have you called Gary Pruitt and asked him to give you a meeting and a fair shake?
- When will you take a page out of Gary's playbook and go public, taking your case for a different kind of newspaper ownership public directly to the would-be readers?