Knight Ridder shareholders formally vote today on the sale of the company to McClatchy. Most feel like the victims of some screwball tragedy, a company once on a journlistic level with the Times and Posts of the world, and then -- almost suddenly -- a beggar in a vanishing marketplace.
At the Saint Paul Pioneer Press -- once my hometown paper and the paper I was fortunate enough to serve as managing editor in the '90s. -- the changeover (to McClatchy presumably Tuesday, and then to MediaNews as legal niceties finalize) is bittersweet. The Ridders have been there a long time, with tales well-told of how KR CEO Tony and his brother Peter (recently retired as publisher in Charlotte) spend nights sleeping on press room floors, learning the business.
So the note of Pioneer Press publisher is worth distributing here. It's from Par Ridder, Tony's son. It's a reminder of another era, and one that is passing forever. Par has been an up and comer in KR, but you can't be an heir apparent when the kingdom's been sold. One associate who thinks Par still has a bright future in the business said of him: "He's got his grandfather's (Bernie Jr.) brains and his uncle's (Peter) personality." Enough said.
Par's letter to Pioneer Press employees. Good luck to you all.
"As Pioneer Press changes hands, a 'thank you' from the Ridders
One hundred and fourteen years after Ridder Publications began, Tuesday is most likely Knight Ridder's last day. Tomorrow, shareholders will meet to approve the sale to McClatchy, the owner of the Star Tribune. McClatchy in turn has sold us to the owner of the Denver Post, Media News. For all of us who work for the Pioneer Press, and those who read it, this is a good outcome to what had become a lousy situation. How did this happen? Let's start at the beginning.
My great-great grandfather, Herman Ridder, bought a German language newspaper, Die Staats-Zeitung, in 1892 that started a company that eventually became the second largest newspaper company in the country.
In 1916 Herman Ridder died and left his kids $2 million in debt and a German language newspaper that was in a downward spiral. For those of us in the newspaper business who feel sorry for ourselves because of the pressure the Internet is placing on us, imagine what it must have been like to publish a German language newspaper while we were at war with Germany.
By 1925, my great-grandfather B.H. (Ben) Ridder and his brothers had paid off the debt and were ready to build a company. They turned to Clarence Dillon, the founder of investment banker Dillon Reed, for funding. Dillon's response was, "Any guys who can take a German language paper through a war with Germany and still pay off a debt of $2 million are in my judgment pretty good credit risks."
You hold in your handsone of their first purchases.
It has been a long time since Knight Ridder was a "family business," but I've been fortunate to have my family in a business that I love. I'm the sixth Ridder to run the Pioneer Press since my family bought it in 1927, so I often joke that every bad decision the company has made can somehow be traced back to a Ridder.
But my relatives made a lot of good decisions, and one of them was making St. Paul my family's hometown. I didn't grow up here, but people have accepted me and my family as if we had. My kids now go to the same school my Uncle Peter (Ridder publisher #5) was kicked out of. He felt there was no need to attend junior high classes when he was sure he would become a professional hockey player. My Aunt Jill was also asked to leave because, I guess, they weren't comfortable with a 13-year-old smoker. They both turned out OK, and, remarkably, the school has agreed to take on another generation of Ridders.
Many others in the community have taken us in, including my assistant Sue Fillion. Sue was my great-grandfather's, grandfather's and uncle's assistant before she started working with me in early 2004. Last March was her 40th year at the Pioneer Press, and I can't image what life at the Pioneer Press would be like without her.
Knight Ridder is going away because our largest shareholder decided the company was worth more dead than alive. I have a healthy respect for the free market, and if my family had wanted to always control the company, they shouldn't have taken it public in 1969. I wish Tuesday weren't Knight Ridder's last day, but it is, and I'll be as excited Tuesday about being in the newspaper business as I was on my first day as a clerk in the advertising department of the Washington Post.
The Pioneer Press will do well under the new owner, and I'm pleased that the new owner plans to keep the current management team, including me, in place. But the business is changing quickly, and, over time, names will surely change on the masthead. The key point is that this market has supported two healthy newspapers for many years, and it will continue to do so.
It has been a thrill to work two doors down from my grandfather's old office (which still sits empty except for his old brown couch that I can't seem to unload), and it has been an honor to follow so many Ridders and non-Ridders in the publisher's chair. Times change, and we expect to welcome new owner Media News to St. Paul soon.
Today, though, let me say "thank you" from the Ridders for 79 great years in St. Paul.
We're grateful to have been here all these years, and I'm grateful to be here now."